Swenson Shares Formula for FirstNet’s Success
Tuesday, June 24, 2014 | Comments

Sue Swenson was recently named chair of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). She has several decades of telecommunications and technology experience.

Swenson served as president and CEO of business software provider Sage North America from 2008 – 2011.  She  also served as chief operating officer (COO) of digital content company New Motion/Atrinsic, mobile virtual network operator Amp’d Mobile and T-Mobile USA. She spent her early career in wireline communications at Pacific Bell, and was the president and CEO of PacTel Cellular during the early years of mobile communications. Swenson is a board member for Spirent Communications, Wells Fargo, Harmonic and Novatel Wireless.

Can you explain your “E2 C2” formula for success?

When you look at FirstNet’s authorities and responsibilities, which is to plan, build and manage a nationwide broadband network dedicated to public safety, there are four elements we must focus on every day to successfully carry out our mission: execute and engage (E2), communicate and collaborate (C2). These four elements aren’t mutually exclusive nor do they operate in a linear manner. Our execution, engagement, communication and collaboration efforts often support each other as well as happen in parallel tracks.

I like to introduce E2C2 with execution, because all successful ventures — both commercial and public — start with a plan in place and a staff to implement it. The strategic program roadmap that the FirstNet board approved in March clearly lays out what we need to do during the next several years to drive us toward a business plan for the network. Further, we have built up our staff through the federal hiring process, competitive procurements and assignments from other federal agencies. As a result, FirstNet is now well positioned to implement our strategic roadmap. And as we add more staff, it will only improve our ability to execute future plans, including our business plan and state plans.

The FirstNet board and management team have moved aggressively to engage with key partners in this mission, such as members of the public-safety and vendor communities and agencies at all levels of government. We can’t build this network on our own, so we are building a solid and sustainable foundation that will enable us to engage and collaborate with those who will help us deploy the network, as well as those who will use it to save lives and property. 

Communications is the lifeblood of everything we do at FirstNet. So we remain focused on creating and enhancing opportunities to engage in a two-way dialogue with public safety and other key partners. This includes meetings, conferences, webinars, online strategies, and many other outreach activities, as well as just picking up the phone and calling stakeholders. My motto is “when in doubt, share it.” Better to do too much than not enough.

Has FirstNet earned the public-safety community’s trust?

The network is being developed for public safety, so that what will always be our focus. The FirstNet board and staff are working hard to earn public safety’s trust, and the feedback I’m getting is that we’re on the right path.

The board includes experienced public-safety professionals who have been integral to guiding our outreach to and coordination with members of the public-safety community, as well as all public-safety organizations and associations. The legislation requires the board to have at least three public-safety professionals on it, as well as state, local and tribal representation. So the board will always be positioned to address public-safety needs and concerns and work through challenges. But we realize that maintaining and building trust is something that the board and staff have to continue to work at. My E2C2 framework is geared toward doing that, and we have taken a number of steps in the right direction to earn their trust. 

We saw many examples of progress in this area earlier this month at our board meeting in Westminster, Colo., where the public-safety community showed up in full force —hundreds of representatives from the states, territories, localities, federal agencies and all major public-safety disciplines. The board meetings and Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) conference provided many opportunities to engage with the FirstNet board and staff during the course of several days. And they took advantage of it through hallway conversations, Q&A sessions during panels and excellent discussions in open meeting settings. 

For example, the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) June meeting was well attended by its members, as well as the FirstNet board and staff. We discussed a number of potential projects, assignments and opportunities for collaboration. Our open committee and board meetings also provided excellent opportunities for members of the public-safety community to see first-hand how we conduct our business and our approach to issues. This was the first time we conducted the board and committee meetings in an open setting, and I believe it further solidified our commitment to being open and collaborative with public safety.

Have public-safety officials been open to working with FirstNet, and could they do more?

Public safety has been open to working with FirstNet since day one. The public-safety community was well organized and unified in its advocacy for a nationwide public-safety broadband network. They have been willing partners from the outset. 

In turn, we have been working hard to keep up with them by designing our outreach, consultation and planning strategies to maximize our opportunities to collaborate with them on important issues. I mentioned the open board and committee meetings earlier, and they are obvious examples of collaboration between FirstNet and public safety. We also approved the PSAC’s charter, which formally lays out how FirstNet and the advisory committee are going to collaborate going forward. 

In addition to the PSAC, we have formed partnerships with all 56 states and territories through the single points of contacts (SPOCs) and increased our work with federal agencies with public-safety communications users, programs and responsibilities. Our outreach and state consultation is critically important to the future success of FirstNet. Between March and May, the FirstNet board and staff participated in at least 50 outreach events throughout the nation. Moving forward, the conversations will become more focused on each of the states and territories as we look ahead to developing state plans.

What is FirstNet’s biggest goal for the coming year?

It is difficult to identify one big goal, but if I had to pick one, it would be implementing the strategic program roadmap. That is undoubtedly the focal point of our work now. Making progress toward the milestones in the roadmap is driving everything we do. The goal is to achieve as many milestones as quickly as possible so we can get to a business plan that will enable us to know how this network will become a reality.

What is FirstNet’s biggest challenge?

We face numerous challenges every day. And of course the mission itself is a huge challenge; deploying a nationwide network dedicated to public safety has never been done before. That’s why we put the roadmap in place and are working on several actions to validate some of our assumptions and create more opportunities to hear from the public-safety and vendor communities.

Please describe FirstNet’s partnership with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

The legislation has outlined some clear responsibilities for NTIA as it relates to FirstNet, and we have formed an excellent working relationship with NTIA leadership and staff. NTIA supported the organization of FirstNet as we built our own infrastructure, culture and processes. NTIA has also worked closely with us through its State and Local Implementation Grant Program (SLIGP) to ensure alignment with FirstNet priorities for state planning and consultation. So we have worked collaboratively with NTIA and, as a result, have leveraged their know-how and experience to FirstNet’s advantage.

What is the path to a business plan for FirstNet?

We have gained momentum during the past six months, and we are entering a new phase of FirstNet with a clear plan to get us to a business plan. That business plan will be our framework for making this network a reality. It is public safety's network, and FirstNet has been given the opportunity and privilege to work with the public-safety community to make it a reality. 

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