August 18, 2020 - The quality of decision-making in a control room hinges on how well information is presented, managed, and distributed. Today, control room information management is about so much more than pushing content onto a display wall.
On the one hand, control room operators and supervisors need a continuous overview of multiple information streams to monitor the status of their applications, be it the flow of traffic, the operation of an industrial plant, or the availability of patient beds. On the other hand, they need to be able to switch from a state of relative inaction and constant vigilance – when everything goes well – into immediate reaction in case things get critical or when a calamity occurs.
Compare it to driving a car. While driving, you are usually in a relative state of calm, although you have a continuous awareness of the road ahead and your surroundings. But to avoid accidents, you need to be able to change direction in the blink of an eye, maybe even honk, activate your car blinkers, or perform another dashboard interaction.
Managing the information flood:
Decisions that need to be made fast, require data and information that is always ready for use, putting a high strain on information management. Control room operators need to oversee an ever-increasing number of content sources and applications.
All nearly simultaneously, they need to:
- Manage one or more applications on their personal workspace.
- Monitor collaborative content on the overview screen, providing context, such as dashboards, maps or application overviews.
- Interact with content sources from other agencies or control rooms.
For example, during a calamity, a crisis center might need to combine information from the fire department, police department, hospital, and nearby utilities. All this information can be brought together into a common operational picture (COP), enabling joint authorities to make well-founded decisions.
Decision-makers need to work with information that is added to the COP in real time, either by people who are present in the control room (by sharing information from their laptop or smartphone), or through remote contributors over a secured network.
Closer to the content:
The most visible piece of technology for control room information management is the display wall. Large video walls need to present information in an overview for everyone in the control room. Today, however, the focus is shifting increasingly towards personal operator workspaces, allowing people to interact more closely with the content. The effectiveness of information management hinges on how seamlessly information streams back and forth from the display wall to the workspace.
Large display walls typically provide overview or status information in charts, graphs, status overviews, or dashboards. On the other hand, smaller operator screens and digital workspaces provide complementary information, enabling users to focus on and interact with specific tasks and information systems.
This is not to say that the big screen is any less relevant. Although operator workstations become increasingly important, they still play a crucial role in specific applications like SCADA, railway monitoring or monitoring of stock exchange information. Showing multiple sources on a large screen can also be a way of confidence monitoring, giving operators a feeling of control. A large video wall can show customers or visitors that you are in control and allows operators and supervisors to comment on the information from a distance or in a standup meeting.
Technology for higher situational awareness:
And yet, the ability for operators to handle content sources swiftly and effectively can make a difference in how critical situations are managed. By effectively combining information from the overview video wall and operator workspaces, operators can have situational awareness and interactional efficiency at the same time.
Solutions like Barco OpSpace allow operators to call any application into a work area positioned in front of them with a single click. OpSpace enables them – using only one keyboard and one mouse –to interact with this application while maintaining an overview of the other applications still present in their peripheral vision. This provides a more ergonomic and intuitive way of working, contributing to lower stress levels and better decision-making.
In addition, control rooms increasingly bring in federated information from other sites and agencies and therefore need secure technology to present and share information in all confidence. Control room collaboration solutions like Barco’s SecureStream perfectly cater to that need.
Control room and information management:
There is no single way to design a control room to manage operational information. Some control rooms are small, some are large. Some have a display wall, some don’t. Setting up a new control room environment, therefore, requires operators, supervisors, and other stakeholders to think first about what information they need and what they want to do with it. With over 20 years of experience in a growing number of markets, Barco can provide the building blocks and the expertise for making your critical information management successful. And if your information requirements change along the way, Barco’s control room visualization solutions can grow with your needs.
by Tom Rebry