Trade organisations, particularly those that are established to aid the deployment of specific technologies, often suffer from a lack of direction once a technological phase is complete. Arguably, their reason for existence starts to erode as their membership becomes expert and well-informed.
That was becoming the case at British APCO, the newly rebranded BAPCO, an organisation that provides a forum for professionals in public safety and civil contingencies communications and IT.
However, far from quietly disappearing from organisations’ agendas, British APCO is reinventing itself just as the industry faces a new technology cycle with the deployment of LTE and other 4G mobile broadband technologies. There’s a requirement for the organisation to respond to the need for education and information once again, and it has been busy realigning itself in the last year to address that need.
British APCO’s current executive director, Tony Antoniou, joined the organisation in September 2010, having been a successful executive in the industry for more than a decade. ‘The organisation was very much at a crossroads,’ he explains. ‘It wasn’t being effective and wasn’t doing the things it exists to do.’
Antoniou has piloted a series of initiatives to reinvigorate the organisation. ‘I wanted to rebrand heavily, go back to our roots and set out what our values are to make the organisation relevant to the 21st century,’ he adds.
That involved spending time with US APCO. ‘I went over there and took all the good stuff that we can apply,’ says Antoniou. In many respects, the market dynamics now are similar to those at the time of BAPCO’s inception in the early 1990s.
‘When TETRA first came to market, a lot of people had no idea what was going on and we were needed to represent the user base to the supplier base,’ he explains. ‘We find ourselves at a similar time. TETRA is not going away, but we have a whole bunch of very relevant new technologies to address.’
The market dynamics give British APCO a renewed vision. ‘Things have taken a very viral tack of late,’ explains Antoniou. ‘Nobody planned this, it just happened. An organisation in Hampshire has done one thing, while one in Newcastle has done another, for example. That generates as many questions as it does answers. There’s a whole bunch of newness that has to be embraced quickly and brings a total breath of life for British APCO.
‘My first conversations on taking on the role were that we didn’t have a crusade, or at least not a clearly identified one. Now, we have multiple crusades and by that I don’t mean enforcing a particular vision, I mean there’s a job for us to do.’
Antoniou sees applications, 4G and LTE in particular, as the technical issues. However, new models such as public-private partnerships will need to be better understood. He also wants the organisation to address education, training and accreditation, as well as spectrum harmonisation and what’s happening in other EU countries.
‘It’s all about delivering value add for the members,’ he says. ‘You can layer on top of that social media and all the alternative channels, there’s a massive amount to do.’
That obviously can’t be addressed in isolation within the UK. ‘We’ve recognised the need to be part of a global alliance,’ adds Antoniou. ‘You can’t exist in a solitary way anymore.’
The global APCO organisations, or chapters, form the basis for that. There are APCO organisations in the US, Australasia, Canada and other countries, and British APCO is taking the lead in pushing the APCO approach into the European Union.
‘We’ve become more and more involved in the EU in a number of places because we’re participating in a bunch of research projects and that has brought us very close to the commercial base.
Europeans have said they can see that we do stuff and can they join our organisation – they can’t, the clue’s in the name – but we want to see the presence of APCO expand and will help to create a European entity.’
‘British APCO will be the largest voice for some time, but I’m happy to drive European activity for as long as that’s needed,’ he adds. ‘I’m getting an awful lot of response from Europe, but British APCO will never lose its UK identity because it is very key to what we do.
‘In spite of the similarities between the UK and a number of European states there are unique internal identities that are key to the way that forces operate successfully. For that reason, there will be chapters across Europe. Some of those may have only one or two members but that will grow.’
Antoniou is also strengthening links with US APCO. ‘It has a very different membership profile,’ he says. ‘Our members include many of the senior ranks across all three blue light services while the US organisation has a large membership among control room operators. We need to get stronger representation on the control room floor.’
Lack of focus
Another issue facing the organisation is its annual event, held in London. In recent years, the event has stagnated with lower attendance and a lack of focus. Antoniou plans to radically reorganise the organisation’s approach to events.
‘My criticism of the event is fair,’ he says. ‘It’s a rubbish location, it’s expensive to attend, the format is worn and not pertinent to these initiatives and campaigns. The new model for
an annual show is one of having villages of interests comprising tents of knowledge exchange.
‘While there will be an exhibition to bring it all together, what sits in these specifically themed sub-events and areas will be of greatest interest and more closely match what we are doing as an organisation. The old event had become extremely dull – there will be no more of that.’
Antoniou feels the organisation has turned around and is now in a good position to better address the needs of its members. ‘The less exciting bit, if you like, has been done, what was broken is now fixed and we are now seeing the fruits of that. Now we can focus on the initial aspirations we had when I joined and continue to keep pace as new needs continue to drive change.’