During visits with vendors and wireless users, a frequent complaint I hear when discussing interoperability concerns people problems. Checking egos at the door is easier said than done, especially in the public sector where many tenured employees are slow to forget past transgressions — or view an interoperable network as jeopardizing their domain. Others possess a “not-invented-here” mind-set and ignore ideas not formulated within their own departments. Because most public organizations cannot afford facilitation sessions to resolve their problems, more rigorous approaches should be pursued.

  • Executive sponsorship: Money is not a substitute for having a committed, aligned executive-leadership team. It is imperative to develop joint, cooperative plans and have a strong commitment from local political leadership. Communities, not vendors, must identify and develop relevant requirements. Though dialogue with vendors is critical, suppliers only should be supporting players, not the driving force. Another critical component is to involve federal government agencies. Network operators that don't may bypass potential funding mechanisms known only to these agencies. Also, their user fees could provide a consistent revenue stream when the network is operational.

  • “Field-of-dreams” approach: Some agencies still adopt a “prove-it-to-me” approach. A mid-sized, Eastern county recently issued a bond offering exceeding $15 million to build a new, digital wireless network. Prior to securing the funding, they were unsuccessful in recruiting adjacent communities to help fund a regional interoperable network. So they built it themselves. After it was operational, adjacent communities reconsidered joining. Conducting an exercise and providing free loaner radios also helped.

  • State agency takes the lead: There is greater chance for success when a state agency takes the lead. This approach, while an exception, was successful in Nevada. Other success stories where the state took the lead include Colorado, Virginia and Indiana. If the state is moving too slowly, counties may take the lead to build a statewide network by linking counties together. But this may create friction between the state and the localities, hampering forward momentum.

  • Cost is a barrier: Government agencies are skeptical of fees that will be charged to join an interoperable network. Therefore, it is important for all agencies to perform an internal cost analysis. I visited a West Coast client interested in joining an adjacent, larger city's LMR network. The client felt the price per subscriber unit was too high. In addition, the city could not provide any detail regarding its calculations. The client believed it could do better by expanding its existing network, which it did. Later, we reviewed the client's internal costs and realized it would have saved money if it had aligned with the larger city.

  • Recommendations: To create an environment where all parties are working together to achieve a common goal, follow suggestions:

  1. Establish agreements that grant permission and authority to share resources with other agencies.

  2. Utilize only proven technologies.

  3. Focus on securing support from the executive branch of government to pass a mandate forcing all first responder agencies in the state to join the network.

  4. Have a local community act as the network host. This locality may be the largest, the best funded or the one contributing the most users.

  5. Establish a quasi-government taxing authority to ensure funding and revenue generation and to establish an equitable cost-sharing plan for all participating agencies.

  6. Create a multi-jurisdictional governing committee. All agencies must be involved. The following subcommittees should be established: technical/engineering, operational, funding/financial, strategy/policy/regulatory, outreach/education/training and deployment/implementation.

Following these steps will lead to the successful deployment of an interoperable, cost-efficient network.

Spencer Stern is a partner at Market Strategy Group. He has previously worked at Motorola and has extensive experience conducting interoperability and financial analyses involving land mobile radio networks.