The ABCs of PPPs for digital infrastructure

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On the heels of the White House's recently released legislative outline for rebuilding infrastructure, it’s a good time to consider the potential of public-private partnerships (PPPs) as a means to effectively tackle this critical modernization.

Here’s a quick look at the ABCs of PPPs, as well as two scenarios where they might be considered:

The ABCs

We’re one year into a 25-year PPP with the First Responder Network Authority to deliver a dedicated communications platform to public safety, called FirstNet. Working with the federal government, states and public safety community, FirstNet will bring first responders a much-needed communications upgrade. And it will arm them with lifesaving solutions to help them achieve their missions.

Public-private partnerships, like the one behind FirstNet, can be effective ways to address large, multi-year infrastructure challenges. A 2016 study by Syracuse University showed that PPP infrastructure projects in the U.S. show a significantly greater likelihood of meeting respective schedule and cost requirements as compared to conventional approaches.

With a PPP, public-sector entities can:

  • Use investments and assets from the private sector to achieve its mission.
  • Maintain regulatory responsibility and oversight of what’s being delivered.
  • Share financial and other risks with the private-sector partner.
  • Establish a long-term relationship with the trusted private-sector company responsible for performance throughout the lifecycle of the project.

Successful PPPs are backed by a public-sector political commitment, a clear legal framework, a transparent, competitive procurement process and realistic risk sharing.

“Infrastructure” typically conjures images of transportation, the power grid, or water distribution. Yet today’s most critical infrastructure is based on software that runs on communications networks.

Here are just two of the many examples involving digital infrastructure where the public-private partnership model might offer a remedy.

Connected health

Imagine a fast, highly secure network that connects medical and diagnostic equipment, care provider systems, mobile devices, healthcare databases and medical records. Customized apps are built to automate and simplify tasks and processes. Care providers meet with patients virtually. Artificial intelligence and big data technologies can then take this information and pull out key insights to help improve decision-making as well as process and information flows.

It’s a big, complex undertaking that could take several years to build out. It requires the participation and oversight of the federal government. And it presents challenges that private-sector companies are often best suited to address.

Securing our borders

Much has been said in the last several years about how best to protect our nation’s physical borders.

My firm recently completed a one-year pilot program at a U.S. Air Force base to test a "smart base” concept using our IoT and Smart Cities experience and capabilities. The centerpiece of the program was a perimeter security and notification system. It included our advanced networking capabilities paired with IoT-connected sensors and surveillance equipment.

When the base perimeter is breached, an infrared device paired with video cameras detects it and sends base patrols the location information and images of the breach. Within seconds, a patrol officer can receive a text message with a video capture of the intrusion event. The solution helps pinpoint the time and place of an intrusion. And it helps the base more effectively schedule its security personnel while reducing the need for 24/7/365 patrols around its borders.

A similarly designed system, built at scale and delivered through a public-private partnership, could be an effective element of a holistic approach to border security. Certainly, technology can play a leading role in border protection.

Modernizing our nation’s physical and digital infrastructure requires innovation, focus and commitment. PPPs, where the public and private sectors work together to address infrastructure improvement, offer a compelling approach when it’s time to act.

Perhaps that time is now.

About the Author

Xavier Williams is president of AT&T Global Public Sector and Wholesale Solutions.


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