(From the May/June Issue of PSC Magazine)
By The FirstNet Applications Team
To first responders, mobile voice networks are valuable in providing mission-critical, standards-based, interoperable voice communication between agencies. Ultimately, however, it is new, innovative, mission-critical mobile applications (apps) that will transform the way first responders carry out their duties. How much—and how quickly—public safety is transformed largely depends on the development and adoption rate of value-added public-safety-grade apps. FirstNet’s primary goal in this regard is to empower developers eager to embrace the public safety mission, resulting in the development of state-of-the-art apps for public safety users.
The commercial development of meaningful apps for public safety can be quite challenging. Developers face a much smaller user base for public safety apps, difficulty in marketing to the user base, lack of commercial revenue models and difficulty in acquiring domain knowledge of compelling user requirements. FirstNet strives to reduce these barriers to entry so that developers can create innovative apps. A key element of the recent request for proposals (RFP) is an objective for an app ecosystem that includes solutions for a development platform and a vibrant thirdparty developer community.
FirstNet envisions solutions that can lower the barrier to entry by providing developers with tools that greatly increase productivity, allowing them to acquire applicable domain knowledge and ultimately helping them succeed commercially. Examples might include, but are not limited to, providing cloud-based development tools and creating a community around existing open-source tools for source control, code reviews, issue/bug tracking, continuous integration and static/dynamic code analysis.
In addition to development tools, developers would benefit from a dynamic information exchange environment that enables information to be shared among public safety users and developers. Although this task will be challenging, the development of an environment that fosters communication flow among different stakeholders is vital to the formation of an app-development “community” where people are invested in, and passionate about, the public safety mission.
As APCO knows well, the market for public safety devices and apps is evolving
at a tremendous rate. Developers require a realistic test environment to leverage existing public safety apps, enterprise services and network services. Additionally, as technologies surrounding the Internet of Things (IoT) continue to grow, developers need an environment where different devices, sensors and wearables are available to prototype, verify, test and deploy new apps. Such an environment will spark new, innovative ideas, leading to the creation of apps for the next generation of first responders.
FirstNet is exploring methods and components to stimulate the growth of the app-development environment to attract developers. However, a community is more than tools, technologies and platforms. Bringing users and developers together through public safety app hack-a-thons, challenges and plug fests; on social media through crowdsourcing, analytics and idea exchanges; and through resources like APCO’s Application Community (www.AppComm.org) can create and grow a true community feeling.
Apps have the ability to transform public safety operations. The success of the public safety app-development environment ultimately rests with the creation of a steady pipeline of mission-critical apps that first responders use for their safety and that of the public they serve.
The FirstNet Applications Team is a part of the CTO team based in Boulder, Colo., focused on the strategy, deployment and evolution of an applications ecosystem to meet the needs of public safety.