Saving Lives with Software

Crisis-Proof Communication Red alert at the Darmstadt fire department. Optimal communication between all involved is crucial. That’s where the research project SoKNOS comes into play.

Henning Kagermann, Co-CEO of SAP, officially opened the company’s third living lab on November 19, 2008 in Darmstadt, Germany. The living labs are research laboratories that give SAP researchers, partners, and future users the opportunity to work together and experiment with new technologies – resulting in groundbreaking innovations being developed faster.

Throughout Europe, there are more than 50 such labs, two of which are operated by SAP: the Future Factory in Dresden, Germany, and the Future Retail Center in Regensdorf, Switzerland.

Living lab for public security

With public security, the new living lab in Darmstadt addresses a highly topical and sensitive subject for IT research. Experts are predicting a global increase in disasters and crises – in terms of both frequency and intensity. Beyond the existing portfolio, these research activities are designed to ensure that long-term requirements are incorporated into the solutions of tomorrow.

“We are pleased that SAP is dedicating such a living lab to the topic of public security,” said Andreas Storm, parliamentary secretary of state at the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, at the opening ceremony. “Security and technology hold great potential and opportunities for Germany,” he explained, and referred to the tsunami early warning system, which was developed with considerable German assistance after the devastating flood disaster in Asia and recently commenced operation. Storm described SAP’s Future Public Security Center as “another project of excellence.”

SoKNOS project connects emergency services

SAP has been conducting research into public security for some years now, using existing software solutions as a basis. The Future Public Security Center will start by focusing on the SoKNOS project, a security research program of the German federal government set up in 2007, which investigates service-oriented architectures supporting networks of public security. The project is led by SAP and involves partners from industry and research, as well as stakeholders from the fire and police departments. By 2009, the project will come up with an IT-based platform to improve cooperation and cross-organizational collaboration between police, fire, and emergency departments, government agencies, and other organizations in the event of a crisis.

“In an emergency, you need to get an overview of the situation very quickly,” Kagermann said. “All the available data must be brought together and the relevant experts connected – and that’s only possible with state-of-the-art information technology.” As the global leader in enterprise application software, he added, SAP can contribute decades of experience in standardizing processes, as well as being the number one innovator in service-oriented software architecture that enables different IT infrastructures to be connected. He added that, with the expertise from ongoing customer projects, SAP is a natural partner for continuing to improve public security though IT.

But this connectivity is still a great challenge for emergency services coping with disasters, as was shown when the first results from the SoKNOS project were presented by project lead Thomas Ziegert from SAP Research together with Sabina Kaczmarek, head of research projects at the Berlin fire department, and Benno Fritzen, chief fire officer at the Münster fire department.

They simulated the activities in the control room using the flooding of the German city of Cologne as an example, demonstrating how a modern IT infrastructure can help people decide on the best action to take – fast and with sound information. Whereas fire departments today still use magnetic boards, SAP’s living lab boasts a huge touch screen, which clearly provides all the latest information about the event.

Living lab actively engages stakeholders

The presentation also made plain that the living lab concept lends itself to the topic of civil protection. The subsequent users do not test finished prototypes, but rather they can actively influence prototype development right from the start of the project. In other words, end users become equal partners in research. This is an important aspect, especially with security-critical applications.

Fire and police departments, other emergency services, and hospitals already run software solutions for resource planning. However, the data is often not reconciled between the organizations. Sabina Kaczmarek from the Berlin fire department explained that flooding, for example, is often accompanied by a deluge of information – and someone has to first sift through it all to identify what is essential and quickly provide all the required services. Today, this is usually done manually, with the help of telephone and e-mail. One of the aims of the SoKNOS project is to use semantic technologies and innovative user interfaces to achieve greater automation and ease of use.

“I am convinced that the results of our research will help protect and save lives,” said Thomas Ziegert. In total, almost 70 employees are working on the two-and-a-half-year project, 30 of whom come from SAP. Darmstadt is a hub of multimedia and communication expertise, as well as a renowned location for human-computer interaction. In addition to SAP Research and the newly unveiled living lab, the city’s Technical University plays a key role.