How To Develop A Common Operational Picture

develop common operational picture

March 25, 2019


4 minutes

For organizations seeking to develop a common operational picture (COP), the process starts with establishing your objectives.

You may be familiar with the concept of a common operational picture — a single centralized source of (visualized) real-time information. You may also recognize what a COP can bring to organizations ranging from law enforcement agencies to ski resorts. What you may not know, however, is how to develop a customized common operational picture for your specific industry or organization.

Recognizing an urgent need for robust, real-time data visualization and collaborative decision-making, many organizations are beginning to envision how a COP can meet their unique goals. The next step is determining how to build, implement, integrate, and manage a dynamic COP.

The type of common operational picture you need depends in large part on your industry and specific objectives. Besides considering the technological requirements, you’ll want to make sure you understand who will be viewing your COP, what data they will want to see, and how they’ll want it visualized. Then you’ll want to consider how you can best prepare your organization to effectively leverage the improved situational awareness your COP will provide.


Establishing the Key Components of Your Common Operational Picture

In order to implement a COP platform, certain technologies need to be put into place. The most important of these is software: typically, common operational picture software is designed for computers, tablets, and smartphones to allow access both for employees in the field and executives in the C-suite.

A COP generally unites data from sources like surveillance cameras, sensors, and GPS, but these components will vary depending on the industry and application. For instance, shipping companies can track cargo with RFID and GPS, or locate warehouse break-ins with alarm sensors. Firefighters can view temperature data in a connected “smart building” before they arrive on the scene. Weather data can help ski resort managers shut down operations before the slopes become hazardous. The possibilities are endless, and a good COP will provide insights on as many scenarios as a given organization can benefit from.


Common Operational Picture


How to Develop a Common Operational Picture

Any organization looking to implement a useful common operational picture will first need to evaluate their needs and objectives. A crucial first question to ask is simply: Who needs to view the COP, and why?

Different departments and even different employees will likely use the COP for different purposes — planning, logistics, and field operations will all have unique ways of using the same information. It may be that a COP can help you break down organizational boundaries, as when police, fire, and medical teams collaborate after a disaster. You may decide that only upper-level staff should view the full COP if it includes sensitive data. Ultimately, you’re making sure the right information gets to the right people.

To do this, you’ll want to begin with clear objectives — what problems are we trying to solve? Then you’ll want to map solutions to these objectives — what do we need to know to achieve our goals? Next — what data do we need to develop the requisite intelligence? Finally, organizations will need to identify and implement technologies capable of generating the required data — these could include operational technologies, networked vehicles, or edge devices.

In simple terms, these steps include:

1. Define Your Objectives
2. Map Solutions to Your Objectives
3. Identify the Requisite Intelligence
4. Establish the Data Requirements
5. Implement the Appropriate Technologies

In concert with the final step is the equally crucial process of determining how to organize, prioritize, and deliver information amongst the various departments and team members in your organization. Essentially this boils down to who should see what — and when.


Develop Common Operational Picture


Maintaining Flexibility and Collaboration

An effective common operational picture will be both flexible and dynamic — flexible in the sense that it can function as intended across a range of devices, in a variety of locations, and for a diverse collection of users and use cases. Dynamic in the sense that it should automatically compute the user’s environment to deliver the right picture for that user and that user alone. A chief technology officer will want a detailed picture of the organization’s technologies; an operational technology director will want a high-level picture of the organization’s operational technologies; a junior-level mechanical engineer will require a much more limited picture.

When developing a COP, organizations should consider what different departments need to see in order to make informed decisions. Since many COPs take the form of a GIS, it can be helpful to start by considering how geospatial intelligence might benefit your organization. You’ll want to consider map parameters: Will your map encompass a particular building, a city, or a number of global locations? Do you have technologies in particular locations that it would do well to visualize geospatially?

GPS tracking can provide instant insight into operational progress, while geofences can trigger alerts based on movement. Not everything may be trackable via technology, however, so your COP should be built to allow for manual input and telestration as well.


Software Platforms for a Common Operational Picture

Many organizations already have most of the pieces in place to implement a common operational picture, and today’s technologies (such as aPaaS) are making it easier than ever to take the next step. Once you understand your objectives, the right application platform is all that’s missing.

You’ll want to ensure that the common operational picture you develop leverages your current infrastructure to meet real objectives. With a reliable data integration and visualization platform that suits your organization’s goals, developing a COP is simply a matter of taking the requisite steps.


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