Improving Organizational Situational Awareness with a Common Operational Picture

May 28, 2019


4 minutes

With a common operational picture, businesses can develop situational awareness at the level of the entire organization.

“What I see, you see.” This is the concept at the core of the common operational picture (COP) and an increasingly necessary function in today’s fast-paced economy. It’s a simple but powerful idea: when team members share information, they can make better, more coordinated decisions.

As technology improves, utilizing a COP has become easier than ever before. Instead of struggling to explain a map over the phone or relying on unwieldy file sharing, today’s digital platforms enable dynamic common operational pictures that keep everyone on the same page. For organizations committed to improving situational awareness, the foundational first step should be to implement a robust common operational picture.


real-time data COP


What is a COP?

Essentially, a common operational picture displays the same data across a diversity of devices, giving a wide array of relevant personnel access to a single source of truth and the ability to coordinate complex operations against evolving data sets. A common operational picture is the component most critical to establishing organizational situational awareness.

A common operational picture is inherently collaborative, allowing for unified team decision making, even across long distances. “Common” implies shared access to data, however adhering to best practices in SA means that not everyone will see the same thing. Priorities should change depending on who’s responsible for what. A COP does not imply that everyone is looking at the same shared screen — only that no two pieces of information will ever contradict one another.

The data visualization, or “picture” associated with a COP is most commonly a map or graphic illustrating an environment, the locations of relevant actors or elements, potential actions, alerts, and anything else that the system has been configured to show. COP platforms integrate data from multiple sources, including sensors, cameras, GPS, and other tracking systems — the best of these unite and translate diverse data sets into easily-interpretable displays.

Of course, that data is most useful if it is collected and translated to the COP in real-time, as it is generated. The “operational” part of COP refers to the fact that this information is used to inform actions, whether immediate or in the near future. With this real-time (or near-real-time) intelligence, a COP can enable large teams to coordinate effective responses immediately.

The Military Origins of COP

The concept of a common operational picture arose in the military. In earlier days, assistants used calls from the field to arrange friendly and enemy troop markers on paper maps. In this way, commanders could collectively view a visual display of their situation. Of course, advanced technologies now provide the military with much more convenient and in-depth geospatial intelligence. Indeed, with the excess of data generated by sensors and trackers, digital technology is the only feasible way to translate raw data into actionable insights.

COP platforms arose in the military to allow more accurate analysis and coordination when planning operations. Commanders could view the same daily brief, gain an immediate understanding of complex situations, and add annotations wherever necessary.

Needless to say, when actually executing on military plans, a COP can save lives. Military operations are dynamic and complex, relying on of-the-moment information to keep troops safe. Ongoing updates allow personnel to stay flexible, adjusting plans to avoid known dangers and address emerging threats.




The Common Operational Picture In Use Today

The idea of shared intelligence has more recently been applied to other government and private interests. For instance, COP’s provide support for first responders during emergency scenarios. A similar need arises after natural disasters when unfamiliar teams of emergency staff must work together. Even when a hurricane or fire has stripped an area of resources, a common operational picture can help teams prioritize and communicate.

For security staff, a common operational picture means informed planning and quicker reaction.

These capabilities are useful for large gatherings, including conferences, concerts, and sporting events in stadiums. Even the ski industry has begun to realize that a common operational picture can help their staff mitigate risk and manage crowds.

Meanwhile, transportation and shipping operations can use COP capabilities to succeed in a costly and highly-regulated landscape. When updated information is made available to stakeholders like retailers, shippers, and truckers, it opens up completely new opportunities to be flexible, save time, and cut costs.

The Future of the COP

A common operational picture can benefit any industry seeking to improve its situational awareness. Combining maps and other data is useful, but the ability to instantly share the same understanding of a situation with other team members is unique, and in many cases indispensable. As more and more devices generate more and more data, many industries struggle with how to make their data actionable, and a COP is unquestionably the best place to start.


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