As always, one of the most well-attended conference sessions at this year’s BAPCO Coventry was the annual Emergency Services Network update. This was delivered, as in previous years, by programme director John Black.
For those who don’t know, the context for the presentation in question was somewhat unusual, taking place as it did after key contractor Motorola Solutions’ recent decision to end its involvement with ESN early. The company was responsible for Lot 2, in other words the provision of ‘user services’ such as the device interface, and systems/service integration.
Motorola left the programme – according to a statement issued by the National Audit Office in March – to “remove the risk that the CMA would force it to sell Airwave.” You can read more about Motorola’s recent issues with the Competition & Markets Authority here.
As ever in Coventry, Black found himself in front of an audience which at this point it would be fair to say was typified by a curious mixture of mild exhaustion and inexhaustible optimism.
The exhaustion comes from the years of difficulties encountered by the programme in question up until this point. The optimism meanwhile relates to the sector’s ongoing faith in the broadband technology itself, as well as the way in which ESMCP has evolved over the years to increasingly take account of the user point of view.
This evolution is probably best symbolised by Black himself, who began his presentation by making a point of stating that he was not only looking forward to “getting this project done,” but also “being a lot more open about what’s going on.”
Discussing the situation following Motorola’s withdrawal from the project, he continued: “Lot 2 sits at the core of the system and holds it all together, [consisting of] specific technical components.
“[Having said that] we're making really good progress through the work required to build ESN and the loss of the Lot 2 supplier certainly doesn't invalidate all that work.”
Regarding the latter statement, Black mentioned the coverage piece (as delivered by EE), which continues apace, as well as the broader “ecosystem” consisting of the air-to-ground network, control room integration and so on. “A lot of those contracts,” he said, “continue to make very good progress.”
He continued on the same theme stating that a full programme reset would not be necessary following recent events with Motorola, and that the key thing at this point is simply to “keep the momentum going.”
While this is clearly necessary however, there still remains the thorny question of who now is going to provide the crucial Lot 2 services. This is something Black said that we wouldn’t know until sometime in 2024, with the re-procurement process taking place over the course of this year.
What he was able to clarify however was that the structure of the programme would remain the same moving forward, with various options for change having been looked at and rejected. There will be no stopping or pausing of the programme for instance; no prime contractor or alternative lot structure.
Rather: “The last option we looked at was a one for one replacement. We're losing a user services supplier, [so] we’ll put in a new supplier, sitting alongside those existing six-year-old contracts.
“We looked at [this question] very carefully through a financial lens, delivery lens and a strategy lens. We need to get the plan to get this job done as fast as we reasonably can, of course balancing officer safety.”
He continued: “We're not going to take shortcuts or become data driven. But equally, we also don't favour options that put in several more years delay and incur more time than is absolutely necessary to get the job done.
“We knew that the structure we had in place actually works and that the architecture is feasible. And we’re confident that whatever reason we terminated the relationship with Motorola, it wasn't because [the technology] didn't work.”
He finished this portion of his presentation with an analogy, stating that ESN is like a 60-piece (/contract) jigsaw puzzle. Just because one of the major pieces has gone, he said, that doesn’t mean they’re going to “throw the whole jigsaw back in the box.”
The procurement process for a new Lot 2 vendor began last October when the programme issued a prior information notice, once Motorola’s decision about its ESN future became apparent.
Going into more detail about the Lot 2 procurement going forward, he said that the programme had a list of organisations it would like to “come to the table, and they’re all pretty much there.” One other thing of potential interest meanwhile was his belief that “there isn’t one single organisation which can do this by themselves.”
The programme, therefore, is relying on the market forming into what he called consortiums. This is “in order to create that competition that we want to get the best solution.”
You can share your thoughts on the ESN updates in our ongoing discussion thread here.
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As per when I was the performance and security test assurance authority on this programme, an issue still remains in the form of no clear end to end ownership of the overall technical solution.
Lack of centrally driven (architected) design processes facilitate suppliers to narrow focus on their elements only, rather than taking a wider view of an end-to-end solution and its interactions with other suppliers’ elements. This results in the assurance function outputs being ignored / overridden and collaborative working between suppliers accepted by middle management as too difficult to achieve right now. So, a stalemate situation arises leaving technical misalignment and gaps. Leadership is then blind to the truth, assurance functions are deemed to be providing no little to no value and suppliers get away with raising a continuous stream of contract variations, in an attempt to align the technical direction, but still in partial isolation and favourable to them, rather than the wider programme.
An example / food for thought, who owns the security of digital forensic data? For example, photographs stored on the SD card of an end user device.
The solution is as @Peter Clemons has said many times before, you need at least a central technical authority to provide architectural design governance / oversight. Diversifying the supply chain to avoid a monopoly makes sense, until you try to hold them to account on elements that overlap. Now whether you issue the entire delivery to a single supplier / consortium or enhance the home office central technical governance is a question I would love to begin a debate on. Personally, I would prefer the later as it was almost there before.