ADS influences the Home Office’s new Police Science and Technology Unit

The Home Office is in the process of setting up a new Police Science and Technology Unit.  ADS has been very influential in helping frame the roles and responsibilities of this new Unit.

What will the new team be responsible for?

The Unit will have responsibility for delivering the Police Digitisation 2016 vision set out by the Home Secretary, including:

  1. Setting the overall vision and framework for police IT, and on forensics and biometrics, to encourage value for money, efficient use of police resources, and cutting edge exploitation of technology in cutting crime.  In other words, trying to encourage common approaches across forces.
  2. Setting technical standards to ensure interoperability.
  3. Acting as the key liaison and policy lead for PCCs.
  4. With OSCT, ensuring police forces take advantage of the innovations that technology can provide, for example using data analytics in investigative opportunities, improving evidence capture with bodyworn video, improving the pursuit of criminals through social media, CCTV and ANPR, and ensuring that police skills and knowledge mean the police can pursue cyber-enabled crime and criminals online.
  5. Ensuring co-ordination between all actors working on police ICT nationally, from the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme, to Home Office Science, OSCT, MoJ and others.
  6. Ensuring a stable and vibrant commercial market exists for police ICT and forensic services.

What does this mean in practice?

The team will focus on the following key tasks:

  1. Set the national strategic framework for police IT and develop strong governance mechanisms for delivery.
  2. Be the key liaison and policy lead with PCCs.
  3. Develop the national Police IT Portfolio plan and open this plan for consultation.
  4. Establish an open standards working group and review current standards.
  5. Develop a national biometrics and forensics strategy.

How has ADS influenced this new team?

In April 2013, ADS engaged with the Home Office on the development of a vision for police ICT transformation.  This included a workshop attended by members and senior officials, followed by a report.

One of the major recommendations of the report was that the Home Office should develop open standards for user interfaces and data entry (i.e. the back-end databases of policing), while allowing innovative front-end applications to be developed at a local level:

Industry acknowledges that, from its perspective, the ideal environment of common requirements and procurement processes across 43 individual forces and the rest of the criminal justice system is unlikely to be achieved due to understandable political constraints and the need to ensure the localised delivery of services.  That said, an overarching approach that achieves interoperability between the range of different systems that exist – and the range of different applications that will be developed through G-Cloud (assuming the recommendation above is adopted) – can be achieved.

Just like the police service and broader criminal justice system, the NHS (in particular given the plethora of purchasing authorities) and insurance sectors faced the challenge of ensuring standardisation while still meeting local or individual customer demands.  As a result, the NHS and insurance sector implemented a programme to develop standards for both user interfaces and data entry.  This approach allowed different front-end and third party systems to be used, but developed standards for back-end systems.  Similarly, in the UK military domain off-the-shelf enterprise software (‘middleware’) has been developed to coordinate distributed systems supplied by multiple vendors.  The software is specifically designed to integrate systems that were not originally designed to work together.  Of particular note, the software allows interoperability between different security domains whilst still respecting different classifications.

  • The Home Office should develop open standards for user interfaces and data entry (i.e. the back-end databases of policing), while allowing innovative front-end applications to be developed. This approach will allow multiple channels for police/public engagement while still ensuring a necessary element of standardisation. It should be emulated by other government departments with responsibilities for other parts of the criminal justice system.
  • Off-the-shelf middleware (enterprise software) can be used to quickly achieve interoperability between systems that were not originally designed to work together, including at different security classification levels.
  • The Home Office/police service could learn valuable lessons from the Army’s Land Over Systems Architecture programme (LOSA). Like the Army, the police should develop an equivalent of the ‘Generic Soldier Architecture’ and the ‘Generic Vehicle Architecture’.
  • In light of the development of open standards for back-end requirements and drive for innovation for front-end applications, the government’s approach to accrediting systems should be reviewed.

This recommendation to develop open standards is reflected in the team’s role.

Underpinning the team’s role to develop the overall framework and strategy for police IT, forensics and biometrics is also ADS’ recommendation that the Home Office and individual forces should not just focus on particular ‘bits’ of technology: they need to undertake a comprehensive analysis of so-called supporting lines of development such as logistics (sustainability), infrastructure, training, personnel, concepts and doctrine (business processes), and information.

Finally, the task of ‘ensuring a stable and vibrant commercial market exists for police ICT and forensic services’ ties in well with ADS’ recommendation that the Home Office and police forces need to develop an agile procurement process.  This can be achieved by:

  • Establishing a procurement unit in the Home Office tasked with identifying and exploiting innovative ideas. As part of this, the Home Office must recognise that innovation rarely arises without allowing for a certain amount of failure. By increasing the risk tolerance, the rewards have the potential to be greater. Local forces will need to adopt the same attitude to risk as the Home Office centrally.
  • Ensuring early and sustained collaboration between the public and private sector and academia when developing requirements, to help manage the level of risk inherent in seeking innovative solutions. BluelightWorks is an ideal mechanism for this.
  • Creating an open, competitive environment for technology development by using G-Cloud as the default route for procurement, unless there are unique circumstances that demand an alternative approach.