The challenge of police procurement – what is ADS doing about it?

Police procurement has always posed challenges for the security sector.

The most obvious challenge is that the customer base is very fragmented, with 43 operationally independent police forces in England and Wales that have separate procurement processes and can choose to procure distinct capabilities.  This is in addition to certain national-level systems.

Does a fragmented customer base benefit any companies?

Police force map

One the one hand, many companies  have personal relationships with local forces that make it easier for them to become aware of and access opportunities.

On the other hand, companies wish to see a simpler procurement system to cover all forces.   They know that relying on personal relationships to access local opportunities does not result in the company expanding their business to other forces.  For instance, a significant number of companies supplying to their local police forces/Counter Terrorism Unit have encountered a ‘not invented here’ mentality when trying to sell to other forces.

Of course, some companies worry that simplification and aggregation of requirements will lead to fewer suppliers and lower margins, with larger companies such as Primes – or those companies offering cheaper but lower quality goods – being the principal beneficiaries.

However, on balance, even SMEs would be in favour of a simpler national-level approach.  It is acknowledged that SMEs can come together to form viable consortia to meet larger requirements and that Primes are also taking a more active interest in expanding their supply chains and flowing down work to SMEs.  Introducing and creating effective partnerships between different companies within the supply chain is an ongoing task and one in which ADS is taking a more active role, for example by facilitating supplier engagement days.

There is evidence from the Fire and Rescue Service to support the benefits of aggregated/collaborative procurement.  When the Fire and Rescue Service aggregated its procurement in 2006, commentators noted that:

  • Aggregation of procurement by requiring forces to procure goods and services through specified contractual arrangements could mean fewer but higher value procurements.
  • This might make it harder for small firms to sustain the cost of preparing bids, or to meet the volumes of goods or services required.
  • On the other hand, for small firms as for larger ones, it should be more straightforward to engage with a much less fragmented market.
  • There is also scope for SMEs to increase their capacity to deliver by forming consortia, either with other SMEs or with larger mainstream companies.
  • Another route for SMEs to access this market would be through subcontracting of equipment or service provision.

It is interesting to note that when the Fire and Rescue Service aggregated its procurement, the number of SMEs contracted to provide goods and services increased from 27 per cent to 52 per cent.

Reforming police procurement

Therefore, on balance, a simpler system of collaborative/aggregated procurement would be preferred.

Achieving this in a highly charged political context and environment where individual forces can be fiercely independent (notwithstanding some attempts at collaboration) is difficult.

Some progress has nonetheless been made.  ADS has initiated or supported a number of activities to improve engagement and access to opportunities for its members:

1. Home Office Bluelightworks & collaborative procurement

Bluelighworks is a service funded by the Home Office.  It is the concept of engaging industry, academia and users in defining the marketplace capability and, where appropriate, the technological capabilities to inform the development of future procurement specifications, improve procurement outcomes, associated business process and resourcing.

In other words, Bluelightworks aims to address challenges faced in procurement with regard to lack of supplier and end-user engagement.  Government recognises that if often has a poor understanding of existing infrastructure and capability and knowledge of future technology trends and developments.  Suppliers often complain of a poor understanding of end-user requirements.  The purpose of Bluelightworks is to enable Customers to work directly with unbiased blended teams from industry and academia.  The tasks undertaken include – but are not be limited to –

  • Requirements definition
  • Innovation and change management
  • Cost/capability trade-offs
  • Concept capability demonstrators
  • Experimentation
  • Modelling
  • Visualisation
  • Considers and enables solutions that exploit and overcome systems integration and interoperability issues.

ADS helped develop and gain support for the Bluelightworks concept.  In November 2013, Selex ES was appointed the Lead Supplier following a competitive process.  Selex ES will facilitate and co-ordinate the service on behalf of the Home Office by developing an extensive industry and academic partnership and pulling together project teams.  ADS sits on the Steering Board of Bluelightworks.  Joining is free.

As part of its work, Bluelightworks will help the Home Office make the case for collaborative police procurement.

2. College of Policing Digital Pathfinder Initiative

The College of Policing is working closely with the Home Office to support more effective exploitation of digital opportunities within the policing and criminal justice world, through the ‘Digital Pathfinders Initiative’.

The Digital Pathfinders initiative seeks to bring the Police service, the Home Office and developers into closer and more productive contact to harness the innovation that exists in pockets, and by sharing and learning together, deliver a step change in performance for the benefit of the public. 25 forces have signed up to be pathfinders.

The College of Policing hosted two Digital Pathfinder events – in November and December 2013 – which allowed SMEs the opportunity to promote their expertise, products and services to a large number of police forces in one location.

ADS members had an opportunity to participate in the events.  All members who expressed interest were invited to showcase their capabilities, including:

  • 2ic
  • Abiom
  • Airbox
  • Cobham Tactical Communications and Surveillance
  • Core Systems
  • Cunning Running Software
  • Evidence Talks
  • Facewatch
  • HCL
  • IMSL
  • Infoterra
  • L-3 TRL Technology
  • Magellium
  • Peli Hardigg UK
  • Radio Tactics
  • RepKnight
  • Sepura & Portalify
  • Vemotion Interactive

3. Security & Resilience Growth Partnership and the Police Innovation Fund

On 3 March, Home Office Ministers approved ADS’ proposal for a ‘Security and Resilience Growth Partnership’.  The core of the Growth Partnership will be a Security Innovation & Demonstration Centre which acts as an open innovation hub for partnerships between end users, industry, academia and Government.

The Innovation Centre will focus on improving the delivery of UK capability requirements through a new model of project/project teams.  A key challenge the Centre aims to overcome is the lack of a systems-based approach to solving challenges, including the focus on discrete technologies and fragmentation of public sector entities.  Technologies are often considered in isolation, rather than as part of a larger system, and this needs to be changed.

The projects to be undertaken by the Centre are currently being scoped but will undoubtedly include the ‘digitally enabled police officer’ – a theme of work to explore the possibilities offered by technology to the police as a service rather than individual forces.

As part of the process for securing Ministerial approval, the Crime and Policing approved the concept of the Innovation Centre.  Therefore, Centre may have some relationship to the new £70 million Police Innovation Fund.

In the meantime, ADS members might find information about the recent grant allocations from the Police Innovation Fund useful.  This information provides a useful insight into individual force priorities and projects as well as areas where forces are looking to collaborate.

4. Home Office vision for police ICT transformation

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.

The report concluded that:

  • Police procurement processes stifle innovation. The Home Office needs to develop an agile procurement process for police ICT by establishing a dedicated innovation unit that has a higher risk tolerance; ensuring local police forces have a higher risk tolerance; ensuring early and sustained collaboration between the public and private sector and academia when developing requirements.
  • The Home Office should create an open, competitive environment for technology development by using G-Cloud as the default route for procurement.
  • 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 through G-Cloud. This builds on experience in the NHS and insurance sector.
  • Off-the-shelf middleware (enterprise software) can be used to quickly achieve interoperability between criminal justice systems that were not originally designed to work together, including at different security classification levels.
  • The Home Office should review, with the support of industry and academia, what levels of data are actually required for the police to fulfil different tasks and what technology and processes should constitute best practice as a result.

Based on ADS’ work and recommendations, the Home Office has said it is likely to undertake work on:

  • Open standards.  There is likely to be a consultation on open standards in the near future,  and there is an emerging proposal to establish – akin to the Department of  Health – an open standards board.
  • Accessible data.  There is likely to be a consultation on this as well.  The work will be made up of two parts.  First, an analysis of what information police officers etc actually need.  The second aspect will be to look at how to create an enterprise system (enterprise service bus).

5. Reform of domestic security procurement – White Paper & next Strategic Defence and Security Review

The government’s National Security Through Technology White Paper (February 2012) noted:

 In the security sector, we recognise that arrangements for working with suppliers are not ideal, with responsibility dispersed across Government from the Home Office to the security and intelligence agencies. We are exploring how we can improve this, including by evaluating the potential benefits of appointing a Senior Responsible Owner within Government to head up a security authority, with a remit which would reach across the security domain within Government. This idea was strongly supported in the Green Paper consultation responses.  It would:

  • act as the policy focus for security equipment and procurement in Government, including standards and reform of procurement;
  • coordinate action between the Government and industry in the security field;
  • act as the policy focus for the UK Security Brand; and
  • support security-related exports.

The Director Security Industry Engagement in the Home Office is required to implement the White Paper commitments and has an action to ‘develop a more coherent approach to national security and resilience procurement’.  The Home Office has started discussions with the Cabinet Office about this.  ADS is providing input on behalf of members to these discussions.

In addition, the issue of procurement (including by the police) will feature in ADS’ work in the run up to the next general election and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).