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The future of police technology

Thursday, September 20, 2012 in Blog

I was fortunate to be invited to attend the event on the Future of Police Technology in London today (Thursday). It was an excellent event attracting top class speakers and attendees from Goverment, policing, prospective PCCs and industry. I attend quite a lot of events, but rarely have I taken so many notes.

Some idea of the complexity, interests, passions, politics and competing agendas that currently surround the issues of policing and police ICT, may be inferred from the fact that the event was held under the Chatham House rule and no wifi was provided to assist with tweeting or live blogging.

The event covered a number of key themes including the role, structure and possible functions of the Police ICT Company itself, the possible establishment of a ‘not for profit’ Police Science and Technology Foundation, the driving forces of change in police technology and the evolution of the supplier/purchaser relationship, the critical role of Police and Crime Commissioners, industry views on some of the challenges and benefits to be realised, structural and cultural blockages and challenges to effective procurement. In short, it was a packed and stimulating event.

Expanding those issues in more detail.

The Police ICT Company now exists as a legal entity and is currently ‘owned’ by the Home Office and the Association of Police Authorities (although this will change with the move to the APCC). There is a small team working out of the Home Office that is gradually taking on various projects (some of the NPIA’s work will move to the new company from the 1st Oct). The ambition is for the company to be world class in standard. Some significant challenges are attached to that ambition, both in securing adequate funding for the company (which will be doing in the region of £1.4 billion worth of business and will be amongst the largest companies in the UK) and for service acceptance of the high levels of salary that the top positions in the company will undoubtedly command if they are to attract top talent.

The company itself is intended to be a national police ICT organisation, serving more than the traditional 43 police forces, but there are clear tensions between the need for the company to articulate it’s value proposition to the police service and the need of the service to detail what it thinks it wants: a thing that it hasn’t always been good at doing as it has often had products centrally imposed on it.

The really crucial, but unknown, variable is the attitude of the new Police and Crime Commissioners to the company, it’s products and services. The company’s view is that ‘they have to pay the rate for the job if they want a world class service and products’, but the reality is that PCC’s may be more driven by a more cost conscious, locally sourced, imperative than the company would desire and chose a different route for their particular force. One thing is for certain, they will be strong, independent minded individuals and will not take kindly to central coercion or be easily herded into line.

The possible establishment of a ‘not for profit’ Police Science and Technology Foundation is as yet, simply an idea. However, the rationale is that it would act as a pressure group. Whether that is intended as pressure on the company, its clients or both, isn’t yet clear.

I have described the session on the Police ICT Company on my twitter feed (@openeyecomms) as a passionate ‘don’t sink the company ship before it’s launched’ lifeboat speech, and with the complexities involved and ahead, its business future is far from settled or assured.

The drivers behind the need for change in police technology and the supplier/purchaser relationship were well articulated, as was the need to maximise the oportunities and benefits from existing spends before committing to new spending. There was a real world view that ICT needs to deliver hard cash savings over short (two to three years) timeframes and that worthy ‘social good’ programmes and products were inappropriate in the current financial context, replaced with IT focussed on delivering real benefits to people actively engaged in service delivery rather than bean counting what has been done for statistical purposes. Technology enabled changes in working practices, not gizmos.

Forces are clearly moving to technology that enables the service deliverer to be a self sufficient, productive person, operating remotely without massive organisational support. However, there is a recognition that efforts also need to focus on technology that enables and derives benefits from greater customer self service.

Opportunities to use technology to challenge orthodoxies (the power and immediacy of a video witness statement from an assaulted person recorded on an officers camera phone versus a traditional written statement for example) were also highlighted.

Challenges were voiced to the complexities of the current procurement and supplier relationship arrangements. Procurement generally takes too long. One industry view was that six months should be viewed as a maximum period, not the two to three years that it sometimes takes at present (by which time the procured product has often become ‘vintage’) and supplier relationships need to evolve and mature to separate the exchange of intelligent ideas from the formal bidding and procurement processes.

Industry views, not surprisingly, were supportive of quicker procurement and highlighted the traditionally high barriers to entry into the police ICT market. They made a plea for early involvement in the specification of procurements, arguing that their experience and involvement helps define a real world view of what’s possible. They stressed the essential need for common standards and interoperability across forces and argued that some form of mandation is both desirable and necessary.

Finally the topic of structures, cultures and skills got a full airing too. Organisational culture was a particular focus, with the need for future coherent behaviour across forces made clear and the necessity (or otherwise) of orchestrating that desired behaviour being highlighted. Workforce skills for the future also attracted attention, with the view that IT skills are largely already embedded within the potential workforce and just need unleashing and freeing beyond the organisational restrictions often placed upon them.

Controversially, a view was also expressed regarding the current ‘bushtucker challenge’ currently placed on police service applicants, whereby they must evidence their desire to join the job by serving xx amount of time as a PCSO or Special Constable prior to application. Commenting on the organisational need to recruit appropriate skills over the individuals absolute and overwhelming desire to join the job, the commentator said “The people who most want to be in policing are not necessarily the people we want the most”. Whatever your view, there was plenty of thought provoking and stimulating content at this conference.

The future of police ICT is certainly going to be interesting, if a little bumpy and uncertain.

Related posts:

  1. ‘Minority Report’ technology used by police to predict crimes
  2. Policing and the digital future
  3. The case for police reform: a letter from Nick Herbert
  4. Making effective police/public conversations a reality
  5. Greater Manchester Police call handling

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