I’ve been involved in establishing Common Operating Pictures (COPs) for about 15 years or more. The only definitive thing that I can tell you is that they don’t exist once you involve multiple parties (services, branches, agencies, etc.). Many attempts at creating a COP have been made but the reality is that each organization or user needs their own context to be applied so a picture simply can’t do it. Once the contexts change there is little common to the picture. Over time the term Common Operating Picture has left my vocabulary and I tend to get uptight when it is used (abused).

Some military organizations have used the phrase “Common Operating Environment” (COE) in recognition of the fact that your context determines what information is useful and the environment (systems) should adapt to your needs. A COE is nebulous though – there is no clear definition of what it is and how well it works. Other military groups came up with “Common Relevant Operating Picture” (CROP) but these both lose the idea. Imagine a military command centre with just a few basic positions:

  • INT (the 2)
  • Ops (the 3)
  • Logistics (the 4)

Can you seriously imagine that these three players need exactly the same picture? Doubtful. However, they do need to share relevant information. The Ops officer needs the INT and Logistics side of the house to understand the current situation well enough so they can bring their own information and expertise to bear on the situation. Once we add civilians to the mix the terminilogy and needs of the user’s picture really starts to morph.

However, there is an answer to this holy grail search for a COP – it’s in the data.

The data should be common – but unless you and I are trying to do exactly the same thing the picture likely isn’t common at all.