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Bringing Innovation to Justice and Public Safety with the Cloud

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According to the most recent FBI data, police departments interact with the public 61.5 million times each year, dealing with everything from petty crimes to medical emergencies and violent acts that jeopardize public safety.

911 dispatch centers receive an estimated 240 million calls annually. According to the most recent FBI data, police departments interact with the public 61.5 million times each year, dealing with everything from petty crimes to medical emergencies and violent acts that jeopardize public safety. In a given year, fire departments respond to more than 37.6 million calls to put out fires, render medical aid and handle hazmat incidents.

First responders risk their lives every day to keep the public safe. But public safety agencies often rely on outdated legacy systems — including computer-aided dispatch (CAD) and records management systems (RMS) — that can make it difficult to get the timely information they need. These systems are required to meet 99.999% availability, or what is known as the “five-nines,” which amounts to five minutes and 15 seconds of downtime annually. However, it often takes significant IT resources to achieve this level of availability, reliability, and resilience.

SOMA Global, an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Partner, offers a cloud-based suite of public safety-as-a-service (PSaaS) technologies to address this challenge for the agencies it serves. The company harnesses the AWS Cloud to achieve the “five-nines” and roll out new innovations and features that enhance its fully integrated suite of CAD, RMS, mobile dispatch, and jail management systems. This provides firefighters, police officers, emergency medical services (EMS) technicians, and other first responders with the vital information they need to respond effectively to public safety incidents and save lives.

Building a cloud-native company

SOMA Global is unique in the public safety space. The company is cloud native, which means its technologies are built and deployed in the cloud. It is one of the first companies to fully deploy a CAD system in a cloud environment.

“There’s a subtle difference between a cloud-native app and an app that is deployed in a cloud infrastructure,” says Peter Quintas, founder and CEO of SOMA Global. “How we’ve architected and coded our software is what makes it cloud native. This is different than taking a client server app and installing it in a cloud infrastructure but not really leveraging the benefits of the cloud.”

SOMA Global uses the AWS Cloud to provide capabilities like real-time data delivery, robust user access controls, secure access from any device, customizable user interfaces tailored to multi-agency environments, and advanced mapping tools to increase information accuracy and response times.

Quintas says his team initially built its software as container managed services. The company began with a traditional three-tier web architecture, which allowed it to take a modular approach and update its custom-built applications with minimal disruption to its systems and applications. However, this also required more engineering effort, making it difficult for the business to respond quickly to changes in user demand.

Until recently, SOMA Global was managing its container orchestration and compute and network resources through automation services it built as part of its platform. However, the company recently moved its applications and services to a serverless environment in the AWS GovCloud (US) to enhance the reliability of its systems and achieve the “five-nines” with much less IT effort. SOMA also takes advantage of AWS Availability Zones. These are one or more discrete data centers within each AWS Region that are isolated from each other to ensure applications are highly available, fault tolerant, and scalable.

“Over the past year, we’ve migrated our code and our services into a serverless environment so we can more easily distribute our services,” Quintas says.

Moving to a serverless environment and adopting next-generation cloud services with AWS

A serverless architecture allows SOMA to embrace a more scalable approach for deploying applications faster and improving the pace of innovation in their products. One reason for going serverless is that it allows teams to access capabilities that are not possible in a traditional cloud application. In a traditional cloud application, three-tiered architecture includes a presentation, logic, and data tier, with each serving a critical function in the application development and deployment process. How do customers design for these functions with serverless? By using AWS managed services. In a serverless environment, AWS uses two services — Amazon API Gateway and AWS Lambda — to make the logic tier more robust and agile. Amazon API Gateway is a fully managed service for creating and managing application programming interfaces (APIs) that enhance backend administration for applications.

AWS Lambda is a serverless compute service that allows developers to run code without provisioning or managing servers, which makes it easier to create advanced, multi-tiered applications. Together, these services allow companies like SOMA to build highly scalable, available, and secure serverless applications. This also reduces maintenance time and IT effort because internal developer teams do not have to worry about securing, patching, or managing systems or right-sizing servers. With this approach, companies can optimize costs while reducing performance risks, says Tony Mangefeste, head of service creation for Worldwide Public Sector at AWS.

“A serverless architecture not only reduces costs, but it improves the security footprint of your services and it can help meet CJIS (Criminal Justice Information Services) compliance,” Mangefeste says. “AWS focused on moving SOMA’s workloads into a serverless environment and onto AWS GovCloud (US) to ensure the highest levels of security.”

Reducing its operational expenditures allows SOMA to reinvest these resources into new features and services that fuel business growth.

“We’re now out of the business of supporting and managing compute and network resources, and we’re just deploying and managing code now,” Quintas says. “Letting AWS manage that infrastructure enables us to transition all of the resources, time, and effort that we spent doing that activity into software development,” he says. “Our engineering team is now more focused on building code, which is a benefit to customers because they’re seeing more features, quicker turnaround, and more innovation. We don’t have that lift of managing an onsite infrastructure or managing the infrastructure in a cloud environment.”

With a more elastic, scalable, and resilient cloud infrastructure, SOMA can also achieve the ‘five-nines’ with much less engineering effort. This is a primary goal for AWS when it collaborates with government technology providers in the justice and public safety space.

“Getting our public safety customers to the ‘five-nines’ and meeting that gold standard is something that is very difficult to do, especially in a way that is cost optimized and not overly arduous for the technology provider,” says Matt Melton, a senior business development manager at AWS.

Beyond the technologies AWS offers, the collaborative relationship SOMA has forged with AWS also helps it scale and innovate. Quintas says SOMA Global seeks the AWS services team’s expertise and advice as it explores new architectures and services. “One of the more enjoyable moments of working with AWS has been going through the service creation process and approaching it in a very similar way that Amazon approaches its own upgrades and service releases. It was really educational,” Quintas says. “Sharing their approach has been invaluable to our team.”

The AWS Cloud enables SOMA to better serve its customers and win new business. The company has remained incredibly resilient and responsive during the pandemic, especially as its employees shifted to remote work. “It has just highlighted the advantages of the way we do deployments and the way we support our customers,” Quintas says.

As one example, SOMA helped a justice and public safety agency in Virginia streamline its records management. The agency used SOMA’s platform to write incident reports, sunsetting its legacy evidence management tool. Streamlining this process with a modern user interface and integrated architecture will increase productivity by an estimated 30 percent, Quintas says.

Recently, another county issued a request for proposals (RFP) for a cloud-based system with “five-nines” of availability. SOMA was awarded the bid because it is one of the few companies whose solutions meet these requirements. SOMA Global has also achieved the AWS Public Safety and Disaster Response Competency, a designation given to companies that demonstrate deep expertise and technical proficiency with AWS Cloud services and solutions.

Quintas says working with AWS and leveraging its cloud technologies, services, and deep public sector expertise accelerated SOMA’s growth and allowed the company to offer justice and public safety agencies advanced solutions that empower them to achieve their missions.

“AWS assisted us as a technical resource and subject matter expert through the sales process. But even afterward, they helped us with deployment and in navigating CJIS environments and requirements,” Quintas says. “With SOMA being a relatively small company, walking into the biggest agencies arm-in-arm with AWS has helped quite a bit.”