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From the Command Center to the Boardroom: An Emerging Cross-Industry Focus on Situational Awareness

May 1, 2019

Situational awareness tools have emerged as front-line solutions for managing complex operational scenarios — in the military and in the enterprise.

Whether it’s the military, the public sector, or the private enterprise, organizational success hinges on the ability to rapidly evaluate and respond to critical events in real-time. So it should come as no surprise that there’s been a healthy degree of strategic cross-pollination across these three sectors over the years. The military has adopted plenty of technologies and operational concepts from, for example, the manufacturing industry, while tech companies have likewise borrowed the same from their military counterparts. Situational awareness (SA) is just one of the latest examples of this intra-disciplinary exchange.

While the term itself emerged in military quarters, it’s seen rapid adoption among business leaders in the private sector over the past few years. Indeed, Gartner has predicted that “by 2020…situational awareness will be a required characteristic for 80% of digital business solutions.”

With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and situational awareness software, a new generation of emerging technologies has reinvigorated this concept for a raft of new verticals. The digitization of the physical world is in large part responsible for this revival, as the data being generated thereby has enabled an unprecedented degree of organizational and situational visibility. This data, however, represents nothing more than the fodder with which mere visibility can be transformed into true situational awareness.

 

What is Situational Awareness?

The concept of situational awareness refers to the spatial, temporal, and logical understanding of unfolding events. Put simply, it essentially just means understanding what’s happening. In the same way that driving a car requires that drivers keep both eyes on the road, check side and rearview mirrors regularly, and anticipate erratic behavior from other motorists, SA at the organizational level involves end-to-end visibility over essential functions and operations — such that decision-makers and their teams can respond effectively (and confidently) to situations as they unfold.

Boosting organizational SA in today’s day and age demands investment in emerging capabilities like IoT and AI. With sensors, cameras, and other hardware supporting personnel in the field, it’s possible to establish intelligent systems capable of delivering real-time situational awareness throughout entire organizations. Across multiple industries, SA helps teams stay on the same page, plan strategically and collaboratively, and coordinate complex responses.

 

Situational awareness process

 

How SA is Used in the Military

Historically, SA was (and is) a key factor in military decision-making. In order to ensure that soldiers on the ground are going into combat situations with the most up-to-date information possible, command centers have placed a premium on developing robust SA.

By coordinating from a common operational picture, military units can be sure that the decisions they’re responsible for executing have been appropriately strategized by commanders in HQ. In this way, military experts have come to appreciate the central role that SA plays in high-stakes tactical environments, whether in training drills or on the actual battlefield.

 

How SA is Gaining New Importance in the Boardroom

Outside of the military, SA has found a new home in the business community. As digital technologies have contributed to a faster and more unpredictable marketplace, it’s become essential for competing organizations to acquire a firm grasp of their competitive environments.

For many enterprises, the last several years of IT investment have made the SA revolution possible. With 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created every day, businesses sit on treasure troves of useful information. While that information has traditionally been somewhat siloed, data integration and situational awareness platforms are helping enterprises turn discrete information streams into comprehensive SA.

 

Cross-Industry Focus on Situational Awareness

 

Non-Military Organizations Currently Implementing SA Tools

SA has become an area of compelling innovation across multiple industries, especially as the threats, market developments, and operational issues affecting organizations become more complex. By providing decision-makers, field personnel, and relevant partners with actionable information, many organizations have been able to drastically improve their strategic responses.

For instance, SA is becoming invaluable in the area of public safety. Whether in law enforcement or in private security (i.e. large venues, stadiums, universities), the pressure is on to protect audiences, students, faculty, and staff from a variety of rising threats. To do so, security organizations are integrating data from assets like security cameras and motion detectors to help anticipate and react to threats as they occur.

Elsewhere, the transportation and logistics industries are benefitting from the ultimate priority of every supply chain manager: end-to-end visibility. By feeding information like driver locations, route and delivery status, vehicle maintenance metrics, and compliance reporting into data integration platforms, stakeholders can gain substantive cost efficiencies.

SA capabilities are likewise helping car rental companies better serve their customers. Indeed, SA allows these enterprises to circumvent historical barriers around inventory management. Integrating real-time data across all systems is making it possible for these companies to reallocate assets based on evolving customer needs.

 

The Future of SA in Non-Military Applications

According to Gartner, by 2020, “80% of new business ecosystems will require support for event processing.” Considering the breadth of SA’s use cases today, it’s fair to assume that it will continue to see increasing adoption in the years to come.

Supported by data integration platforms that synthesize a complex array of data streams into clear-cut, easily understandable directives, teams can more effectively handle evolving threats, leapfrog the competition in response to emerging market developments, and right operational wrongs before they impact performance. While these capabilities will be just as important for the military as they have been in the past, the time is now for stakeholders in the enterprise to get ahead of the SA curve.