Digital Policing – will the Met Police lead the way?

The Metropolitan Police recently published its new technology strategy, Total Technology, for the period 2014 to 2017.  The drivers for this digital policing vision are:

  1. Improving interaction with the public.  This will be done by offering new communications channels that reflect public demand and technology use;
  2. Enabling frontline officers through mobile services (though this requires an understanding of the data actually required for different police functions);
  3. The need to make technology savings of £60 million by 2015/16.  The new IT strategy will see investment of £200m over the next three years, and will cut ongoing IT costs by 30% allowing the MPS to meet this savings target.

The fact that a large number of the MPS’ contracts for ICT expire over the next three years, including the key contract with outsourced providers, also provides the opportunity to rethink.

Capability requirements

For suppliers, the strategy provides a useful insight into overall capability requirements and delivery timescales in the following areas: public engagement, mobile devices/services for officers, core policing functions, centralised information management underpinned by new analytic tools and linked to mobile devices, a new command and control system, and high security systems (which will re-use technology from mainstream systems where possible).

MET_ICTtimetable

Internal reform

To enable this, the Metropolitan Police recognises that it will need to up skill its staff and, importantly, change the organisation’s culture and approach to procurement.

The strategy also has proposals for

  • reforming support services by developing a single Enterprise Resource Planning platform across Finance, HR, Procurement and Property Management;
  • reform  infrastructure by rationalising data centres, virtualising hardware and making use of cloud services;
  • ensuring the technology function engages other parts of the force as a strategic partner, helping the MPS make the best use of technology in a joined up way rather than (as in the past) assuming the role of an ICT supplier to separate parts of the force.

Relationship with suppliers – a tower-model approach

Potential suppliers may be heartened by the Metropolitan Police’s ambition to ‘develop closer collaboration and co-operative partnership relationships with our…suppliers’.  But how will this be achieved?

The MPS will adopt a layered structure for the delivery of services.  At the top layer, suppliers working as service integrators will have overarching responsibility for groups of ICT services, referred to as ‘service towers’.  The towers may be provided by different suppliers, but all are centrally managed throughout the implementation process.

In developing this approach, the Metropolitan Police has looked at how the government has used smaller IT suppliers on shorter term contracts to provide flexibility and agility.

MPS ICT tower model approach to suppliers and procurement 2

Open standards, innovation and procurement

In addition to this move towards clearer supplier management and a desire to embed flexibility and agility, the strategy  makes particular reference to the following approaches which will be of interest to potential suppliers:

  • seeking industry standard and open source technology;
  • selecting common software components as the building blocks of core policing ICT applications;
  • using streamlined procurement frameworks such as G-Cloud and Sprint 2.

And it is these three points that are of particular interest to me.  In April 2013, ADS organised a workshop to inform the Home Office’s emerging vision for police ICT transformation.  The full outcomes of the workshop are available here.  There is much similarity between those outcomes and the approach set out by the MPS.  In summary, the workshop recommended that:

  • The Home Office’s vision for police ICT transformation should be about (i) facilitating innovation by third party suppliers and (ii) enabling the public to assist in tackling crime.
  • There is nothing that demands the development of bespoke systems for the police service. The technology needs of the police ought not to be wholly different from those of other organisations across government and commercial sectors. The issue is how to transfer technology employed in other sectors to the policing sector, tailored to the demands of the frontline officer and the strategic outcomes desired by both the public and force, and encourage innovation to continuously improve delivery of policing services.
  • Approaches to ICT strategy cannot just be predicated on an analysis of particular ‘bits’ of technology. They must encompass a comprehensive analysis of so-called supporting lines of development such as logistics (sustainability), infrastructure, training, personnel, concepts and doctrine (business processes), and information.
  • 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 (through an Evidence Based Decision Support service) 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 Army’s Land Over Systems Architecture programme (LOSA) addressed a similar problem in the military domain, and the Home Office/police service could learn valuable lessons from this.
  • 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.

What about the Home Office and other forces?

The Home Office is expected to publish a paper outlining its role in police ICT and also the provision of national police ICT services in the next month or two.  It will be interesting to see whether the Home Office holds up the MPS as an example that other police forces should follow, given that Ministers do not want to mandate approaches but have said they will highlight examples of best practice.  It will also be interesting to see whether other forces start following the direction set by the Metropolitan Police, because what ultimately is needed is a common approach to police ICT not just within one force (even one as large as the Metropolitan Police) but across the entire police service.