Jun 8, 2021

Flexibility and reliability in control room system design: unlikely companions or perfect match

FUTURE REVIEW 4 min read

In discussions about control room technology for government applications, reliability and flexibility are probably among the most cited requirements. But are these two concepts compatible? Is increased flexibility not a recipe for possible breakdown?

With their critical role in society, government control room centers – traffic management centers, command and control centers, emergency operations centers – are challenged to remain operational in every event. When lives are on the line, downtime is just not an option. No matter what incident is handled, no matter what crisis scenario is unfolding, government control room technology needs to be reliable and stand the test.

Reliability is challenged

Engineers know that the more complex a system is, the less reliable it tends to be. Unfortunately, control room technology has only become more complex in recent years. For starters, control rooms are dealing with an increasingly complex web of information that needs to be monitored. Operators need to control a staggering amount of content sources and management systems. In addition, control room systems need to cope with a growing amount of cyber-security attacks. This challenge has become even more pressing with the increased demand to be able to access any information system remotely, from any location.

So, in reality the reliability of control room technology is put to the test continuously. To deal with the complexity of today’s world, control room systems need to increase their performance and as a result, they become more complex as well. As complexity is growing, the standard ways of making a system reliable may no longer be enough.

Flexibility is a must

You could make your control room as reliable as possible, by turning it into a closed, sturdy, nearly impregnable fortress. But this would not be realistic. Control rooms do not work in isolation, but need to collaborate with the outside world and with other agencies. Control rooms need to be able to react to unanticipated events with possible high impact, such as large-scale incidents, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters.

Flexibility has therefore since long been a critical design requirement for control room information systems. Control room operators need to have flexible technology and agile workflows that enable them to quickly respond to unexpected events.

Another aspect of flexibility is scalability: control room operations need to be able to grow step by step, without an expensive rip-and-replace. In other words, scaling needs to have the least impact on control room operations and workflows.

Robustness is the answer

The general idea is that flexibility comes at the expense of reliability. The two seem to be in constant tension, as flexibility creates change and reliability resists it. The truth is that both reliability and flexibility are needed in today’s world. Technology should be reliable, but at the same time, it should not get in the way of flexibility.

Reliability and flexibility perfectly come together in the concept of ‘robustness’, which we could define as the capability to deal with change, either coming from the outside (e.g. handling incidents) or the inside (e.g. system updates or upscaling).

Government Cybersecurity Agency Professionals Working on Personal Computers in Cooperation with Army. Specialists Working on Computers in System Control Room. military & government

But how can you build a robust system, or expand your existing infrastructure into something both reliable and flexible? Here are a few examples on how to make this happen.

  • Collecting and distributing content is one of the main challenges when it comes to coupling reliability with flexibility. Operators and decision-makers need easy network access to video, images and data, with a swift way to connect to this information, configure how and where it is displayed, and collaborate efficiently. But the system also needs to be flexible and easily expandible for future growth and uphold security – with strict security management. The concept of networked visualization, as used in Barco’s TransForm N platform, couples these worlds and offers long-term support.
  • Modular design offers high reliability, because when one component fails, this does not mean that the entire system is affected. Using modular building blocks provide customers the flexibility to grow based on their needs, without having to go through an expensive rip-and-replace process. This philosophy is used in many Barco products, from tiled video walls to networked infrastructure.
  • Redundancy makes sure that when one component fails, another one can immediately take over. But redundant systems also make it possible to build in more flexibility, for example by distributing operator staff across redundant systems and therefore increasing the accessibility to information.

When more flexibility is needed, more reliability is required as well. It’s a dynamic balance that Barco is continuously optimizing in its control room technology. Want to explore the technology possibilities for your control room? Then get in touch with one of our experts.


About the author

Pat Sweeney
Market Sales Lead of Control Rooms – Federal

Pat has focused on federal control rooms over the past 20 years. With his industry knowledge and technical background, Pat is able to provide reliant and flexible control room solutions in government and surveillance applications. He is based in Atlanta, GA USA.