Interoperability in police technology – the power of systems that talk to each other
The panel was chaired by Clare Elford, Managing Director of Clue, which supplies case management software to about half of British Police forces. The panellists were Brendan Johnston, data standards lead at the Police Digital Service, Inspector James Ellis, from the Metropolitan Police’s Digital Delivery Team and Kevin McDonald from Panoptech a managed solutions provider, representing industry.
Clare Elford began the session by explaining the interoperability issue – making reference to the Policing Insight ICT survey from 2018. At the time of the survey, front line officers identified the problem of systems that didn’t talk to each other as one of their biggest frustrations because of the hassle of repeated rekeying of information and also the missed opportunity of missing connections between separate pieces of information. She pointed out that data is only to get more important in the fight against criminality and the risk of it not being available to the investigator has to be managed effectively.
“The good news” she continued “is that something is being done about this” and went on to describe an initiative being led by TechUK, trade body for the ICT industry, to bring suppliers together behind a commitment to develop interoperable systems. She highlighted the work of the InterOpen campaign in the health sector, where an Emergency Room doctor set out to reduce risk to patients by building a public/private coalition across the sector to improve the visibility of data to doctors.
Clare asked James Ellis to describe some of the operational impact of information silos and he began by reflecting on the formation of the Met Intelligence Bureau in London over a decade ago. Prior to the Bureau’s formation there were 85 separate intelligence units across the Metropolitan Police which didn’t talk to each other (“and didn’t want to”). James described the ambition, expressed in the strap line at the time, “seeing the whole picture”.
James explained the progress that has been made and a culture change that means the will is certainly there to be better integrated but still investigators are held back by the sheer number of systems, several of which require information to be rekeyed if it is to be shared at all. “If we were starting again with a blank sheet of paper, this would be so much easier,” he continued “but we’re not”. He cited a range of reasons that make reform difficult – from the challenges of legacy data to the inconvenience of unsynchronised procurement schedules.
James ended with three pleas to senior leaders in policing: firstly, the intended front line and users of new systems should be involved in the process of procuring and deploying them. Secondly, technology experts should be retained on programmes for a period after they have been delivered – so as to help deal with the implications of that system’s roll-out, not all of which are immediately obvious. Finally, he appealed for a strong focus on prioritising ease of use of new systems, remembering just how complex the front-line officer’s life has become in recent times.
Brendan Johnston explained how having common standards for data is crucial to enabling them to be interoperable. He described how the Police Digital Service had been working for over 18 months to achieve more common standards. Home Office officials, representatives of policing and industry are collaborating on shared standards that are visible to all via the standards platform on the PDS website. A collaborative effort is necessary, he explained, “because if everyone is working on their own data standards, then there isn’t really a common standard at all”.
He described the governance of the data standards work, led by Chief Constable Jo Farrell from Durham Constabulary. Governance arrangements, which ensure the platform is meeting the needs of policing are supplemented by 15 community practice groups, which give members of the police service and opportunity to get involved and also offer a further level of assurance for the work.
The final speaker, Kevin McDonald reminded delegates of the complexities of British policing when it comes to meeting the needs of so many forces, each with its own collection of ideas, systems, priorities, demands and data sets. In this context, he strongly welcomed the decision of techUK to bring together so many companies to encourage a common and collaborative approach to Interoperability.
He particularly welcomed the opportunities for small and medium sized companies to get involved in promoting interoperability. Acknowledging that achieving convergence on standards would be a long and difficult process, he urged other companies to get involved and make the same commitment to interoperability. He also discussed how projects should be set on small wins which are achievable as larger projects too took long and didn’t necessarily deliver, thus becoming obsolete before completion.
The session moved into a Q&A phase in which panellists discussed how procurement practices might change to increase interoperability, whether mandated change might deliver speedier results and whether action needs to be taken to improve the skills of senior managers in policing to enable change to be driven more effectively.
Closing the session, Clare Elford welcomed progress to date while acknowledging there was more to do. The fact that time was being found in forums like this one, as it had at the Police Digital Summit earlier in the year, was indicative of growing recognition of the importance of interoperability to policing.
Georgie joined techUK as the Justice and Emergency Services Programme Manager in March 2020.
Georgie is dedicated to representing suppliers by creating a voice for those who are selling into blue lights and the justice system, but also by helping them in navigating this market. Georgie is committed to creating a platform for collaboration, from engaging with industry and stakeholders to understand the latest innovations, to the role tech can play in responding to a range of issues our justice and emergency services are facing
Prior to joining techUK, Georgie managed a Business Crime Reduction Partnership (BCRP) in Westminster. She worked closely with the Metropolitan Police and London borough councils to prevent and reduce the impact of crime on the business community. Her work ranged from the impact of low-level street crime and anti-social behaviour on the borough, to critical incidents and violent crime.