Senior executives at SP Global Inc. thought their public safety software was game changing and were interested in having its capabilities systematically measured.

So when Pamplin College of Business faculty member Jay Winkeler suggested an analysis by students in Pamplin’s master’s program in business analytics, the executives — Dan Tolley and Roger Mann, who are also Virginia Tech engineering alumni — readily signed up.

They are glad they did. The project brought gratifying results that demonstrated the innovative qualities of their product, Winkeler said, while providing a challenging and rewarding learning experience for the students.

Winkeler, executive director of Pamplin’s Center for Business Intelligence and Analytics, had worked with Tolley and Mann when all three were employed at Lockheed Martin.

Tolley, who received three degrees in electrical engineering (bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D.) from Virginia Tech, is currently president and chief technology officer at SP Global, based in Chantilly, Virginia, in the metro Washington, D.C., area. Mann, whose Tech degree is a master’s in systems engineering, is the company’s executive vice president.

After he joined Pamplin, Winkeler said, “I reached out to Dan to tell him about our master’s program and the capstone project and met with him and Roger. They were happy enough with the students’ performance to agree to sponsor another project this year.”

The capstone project is one of the many benefits of the master’s in business analytics program, Winkeler said. “It gives our students the opportunity to work with real clients to identify, analyze, and propose solutions to current business problems.”

The problem, in this case, was to develop metrics for SP Global’s AWARE™ suite of technologies for incident response. The product is designed to help public safety and security teams to plan for, manage, and respond to real-time events, including natural disasters, active shooters, and traffic accidents. 

“Every day, across the nation, a multitude of communications, such as ‘May Day’ or ‘officer down,’ are missed,” said Winkeler, whose own professional background includes serving as vice president of enforcement and public safety solutions at Leidos.

“AWARE™’s capabilities improve incident communication to reduce the loss of life, injuries, and property damage,” he said. “Until its advent, only a small portion of an incident life cycle had been measured in the emergency services industry  — the time from dispatch to arriving on scene.”

The capstone project team members were Deborah Asabere, Charlotte Fix, Chris Galloway, and Delanie Harris. 

“Our goal was to create measurable metrics that captured how using the AWARE™ software in an emergency incident affected the efficiency and effectiveness of emergency response,” said Fix, who led the team. 

“The company did not have any historical data and did not currently track any metrics for the software, which pushed our team to be creative in our approach,” she said. “We needed to figure out how to highlight the innovative features of the technology.”

The team tackled the problem by building a theoretical model that analyzed three key metrics — time savings, cost savings, and risk mitigation — comparing AWARE™ with current industry standards for different emergency incidents.

The model was applied to each of the three phases of the life cycle of a 911 call: before, during, and after the incident. The team had the metrics and phases vetted by experienced first responders before they were used to compare AWARE™ with current standard procedures in four scenarios: a football game, an active shooter, a two-car accident, and a tornado. 

The team’s analyses confirmed that AWARE™ outperformed the status quo in all key measurements, in all three phases of the four scenarios, Winkeler said.

“On average, the team’s analyses found a 55 percent gain in effectiveness when using AWARE™, demonstrating that first responders and their communities would be better protected with the technology.” The team’s results have been validated by subject matter experts, he added. 

Fix, who has a bachelor’s degree in finance from Pamplin, completed the master’s program last summer and now works at Leidos as a data analyst. The capstone project offered many lessons, she recalled, but the most valuable perhaps was the “experience of navigating a client relationship while still in an academic environment.”

Tolley, who had worked with the Hawaii National Guard in disaster response and had helped develop AWARE™, said the students’ work was further confirmation that “our product squarely fills the huge unmeasured gap between dispatch and the first responder’s often life-saving actions.”

The product integrates three technologies: multi-modal communications technology from the Air Force Research Lab; SP Global Inc.’s own MinuteMan smartphone technology that Tolley had patented; and mapping capabilities from Esri.

“The results from the student team’s model highlights the fundamental truth that disruptive innovation comes from the outside in,” said Mann, who has been an annual guest lecturer in Pamplin MBA classes on entrepreneurship. “In our case, we leveraged several technologies to create a game changer for public safety.” 

Learn more about collaborating with the Center for Business Intelligence and Analytics as a corporate sponsor or earning the M.S. in business administration – business analytics.