What does the tech sector need from central and local government, from PCCs and other political figures to help drive the public safety transformation agenda?
In this piece, Clare Elford from Clue welcomes the National Policing Digital Strategy but says we need to focus quickly on implementation. Some of the actions are obviously long term but there are some things which could be done as a priority: with interoperability and a different approach to procurement at the top of her list.
Having witnessed the launch of the National Policing Digital Strategy at the Police ICT Summit in Manchester last week, there is a lot to feel optimistic about.
Senior leaders made it clear that to keep pace in an increasingly digital world, the sector should adopt a ‘cloud first’ principle and be moving towards more interoperable solutions such as Software as a Service. This view was summarised well by keynote speaker Professor Mark Thompson, who warned the public sector not to do the equivalent of building its own version of Microsoft word - and then complain when its data is incompatible and can’t be shared with other systems. This chimed with an excellent piece by Darren Scates from the Metropolitan Police, published on the eve of the conference.
Having been to previous Police ICT Summits and heard about the Policing Vision 2025, these concepts are not new, but the strategy does seem clearer and more tangible than before.
Our experience, however, demonstrates that there is far to go before these principles become reality and police forces procure the right solutions for the future. Clue is used by police forces, across government, as well as in non-profits and the private sector. Outside of policing, Clue is now used by 90% of our customers in the cloud as Software as a Service. For our government customers, that figure is 100% - the ‘cloud first’ principle is a reality. And within policing? Exactly the opposite. The 17 police forces who use Clue are still supporting an on-premise deployment.
So how does this affect our police customers?
We only have one version of Clue. It is configurable which means it can be tailored to suit different environments, but it is important for us to ensure we only have one product, as this means all our customers get access to all the latest developments and innovation.
We have so far ensured that we can support both cloud-based and on-premise deployments of Clue. But our on-premise customers are at a disadvantage because improvements reach them more slowly. There is often a lag between the latest release being available, and our police customers being able to use it. We also now have several add-ons and plug-ins available to Clue users, such as geo-mapping tools, postcode look-up services and OCR services, which can be difficult for our on-premise customers to access.
But most importantly in our view, is the interoperability that is afforded from a Software as a Service offering. We publish our APIs and connectors to facilitate data exchange with other systems, and to enable us to more easily plug in to third party services. The benefits of this are often not leveraged properly by our police customers due to either connectivity problems associated with being on-premise, or because other systems have no APIs.
Why is this so important for public safety?
We all agree that digital transformation is essential to keep up with increasingly sophisticated and complex criminality. So policing needs to have access to the right tools for the job, to be able to plug-in new technology and un-plug old from their eco-system, and for systems to be able to talk to each other.
There are lots of innovative technologies out there to solve policing challenges. But if a company like Clue - which has been delivering software into policing for 30 years is finding it a challenging and tough environment in which to operate, then what hope is there for the new entrants? This is where we believe that central government, PCCs and other political figures can help drive the agenda and get the message out there to forces. We need the senior leadership within forces to prioritise this.
We know that this is difficult, and we appreciate that police leaders have got a lot to contend with when it comes to their ICT. But there are two things that could be done relatively quickly and at low cost which could make a real difference.
What should the immediate priorities be?
The first would be to work with procurement departments to encourage a more balanced approach to the risks of buying cloud-based technologies. Yes, there are concerns about security but frameworks such as G-Cloud are an excellent way to ensure that cloud solutions are procured with a high level of due diligence. There needs to be a concern about being left behind, of denying investigators the opportunity to take advantage of new technology are out there.
And the second thing would be to start mandating interoperability. That means sending out a clear message to the technology community that policing is no longer prepared to put up with systems that prevent information sharing, rather than to enable it. If the police started sending clear and strong messages to suppliers that it expects them to publish their APIs and make their systems interoperable, they would quickly see dramatic improvements. And between them, these two simple steps would turbo-charge progress to achieving the aims of the Digital Strategy.