Interview: Police ICT CEO on his drive for savings and standards

Recently appointed boss Ian Bell discusses his mission to ‘repair trust’ in the company while helping forces get the most out of technology

Credit: Police ICT Company (above) and Peter Byrne/PA Wire/PA Images (below left)

At the beginning of this year, policing minister Nick Hurd spoke of his belief that forces across the country need to transform themselves and make sure they are “thoroughly equipped for the digital age”. 

But, while significant, Hurd’s words will have been nothing new to most officers. In the last few years, there have been calls from many quarters for the police to invest in digital transformation, with figures from industry, local government, and policymaking lending their voice to such representations.

And, most significantly of all, the changing habits of criminals – about half of all crime is now cybercrime – require those that pursue and prosecute them to utilise technology in doing so. 

The Police ICT Company was founded in 2015 with the remit of helping forces embrace new technology, while getting the most out of their existing kit, and obtaining the best deals possible for investments in commodity IT. 

The organisation is owned and funded by its members, who comprise representatives of all but one of the 43 police forces of England and Wales, as well as the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the British Transport Police, and the National Crime Agency. 

The company’s work should be carried out “by policing, for policing”, says Ian Bell (pictured above), who was appointed as CEO three months ago.

The new chief – who has spent the last 10 years working in police IT – acknowledges that the company has, in the past, failed to adequately engage with CIOs. He tells PublicTechnology that his first order of business is to ensure the company has the trust of its members. 

“The core objective for me is about a reset and a rebrand of where the organisation has been versus where we want it to go – and where our customer base wants it to go,” he says. “We have relationships to repair, and some to build.”

Bell and his team are in the process of drawing up a five-year strategic plan, and the CEO has earmarked a number of areas where he sees the organisation playing a role. 

The first of these is the managed services space where, Bell believes, Police ICT could play a part in the delivery of the National Enabling Programme, which is currently going through a £20m tender process. 

People are sick to death of Windows XP, and Office 2000. I am an absolutely committed believer that we should not be consuming anything older than current OS minus a version

The programme, when it goes live later this year, will offer forces across the country an aggregated central pool of services including commodity productivity tools, identity and access management, and security risk management.

The company could also help set the national agenda for critical infrastructure and assurance, as well as providing advisory services, Bell says. 

Finally, Police ICT must work to build aggregated deals and commercial engagements that provide demonstrable savings or efficiency gains.

“I think there is a lot of work we can do on savings, and on rationalisation of suppliers and contracts,” Bell says. “We have some work to do in terms of how we market ourselves to show value, how we are showing return, and how are we showing difference.”

The company recently agreed a national mobile-telecoms deal with EE, and an agreement with analytics software firm Chorus Intelligence that it claims could save police forces a cumulative total of 1.5 million hours each year. 

Police ICT is now in discussions with a number of other technology suppliers.

“We are going out to vendors, and there are a few [deals] that are beginning to line up, whether that is handsets, tablets, components, or in the world of virtualisation,” Bell says.

The company may even, at some point in the future, look to establish an online marketplace where forces can browse and purchase available products and services. Police ICT may also eventually consider whether “there is a role we can play in the wider public sector”, the CEO says. 

Standard practice
One of Police ICT’s major focuses in the months ahead will be standards. The company will look to drive the creation and implementation of common standards in three key areas.

The first of these is data, where standard formatting, storage, and sharing procedures could save forces money and ease the process of working together. Common standards in contracting and commercial engagements may also help forces save time and money, Bell believes.

The final area is technology where, for example, police forces may be able to benefit from a standardised build of Windows 10 or Office 365 used across all forces. 

The Police ICT chief says that the company wants to ensure that forces do not use any operating systems older than the version of Windows that immediately preceded the current release.

“We want to be a big driver behind those standards, and set them to current OS minus one. [Otherwise], you are creating a greater risk and vulnerability all the time,” Bell says. “People are sick to death of Windows XP, and Office 2000. I am an absolutely committed believer that we should not be consuming anything older than current minus a version – and I am probably not even a huge fan of that either.”

He adds: “We want to be able to keep leading on assessments to ensure readiness to consume new products. We cannot be hindered by legacy forever.”

Ian Bell CV

  • Joined Cambridgeshire Constabulary in 2008 as head of ICT service delivery

  • Progressed to become head of ICT for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Police Forces in 2014

  • Appointed in February 2018 as chief executive of the Police ICT Company, on a two-year secondment contract

  • Also serves as vice chair of the National Police Technology Council, and as director of National Enabling Programmes for the National Police Chiefs Council 

The company should also play a role in permeating a wider culture of tech-friendliness, to help management and front-line officers get the most out of the new tools at their disposal in the coming years.

“One of the bits that we have to increase capability on is culture, and how we encourage that change that is coming down the track,” Bell says. “Forces that embrace that change have the chance to deliver real benefits.”

One force that is embracing technology is West Yorkshire Police which, in February, became the first in the country to roll out the Biometric Services Gateway app developed by the Home Office. The software, which works in conjunction with a mobile-scanning device (pictured below left), allows officers to immediately check a person’s fingerprints against national criminal and immigration databases. The government hopes that another 20 forces will have deployed the software by the end of 2018.

Bell says that the Police ICT Company wants to help forces explore opportunities in emerging technologies in a manner that is collaborative, rather than didactic.

“We have started to talk about artificial intelligence, and we are beginning to see biometrics, with capability built into mobile devices. There is also going to be a wealth of opportunity in the internet of things,” he adds. “We want to do more work with forces, but this is not about the Police ICT Company running off [and coming back with a grand plan]. We want to make sure that we are not wasting time, and that we are asking policing ‘what do you think about this’?”

When asked what, in a year’s time, he would like to be looking back on as Police ICT’s key achievements of the previous 12 months, Bell returns to the issue of regaining the confidence of its members. He also picks out the agreement of more vendor deals, and expanding a company that currently comprises about 15 full-time human staff – and Autumn, a hearing dog.

“The biggest thing, I would have to say, is our reputation repair, and making significant inroads into the repair of trust. That is our commitment to chief constables” Bell says. “I would also like to have seen the organisation grow, and have done four or five commercial agreements that are delivering savings for ministers.”

In all of which the Police ICT Company will remain committed to working closely with the officers that constitute both its owners and its customers. 

“I am not going to blur the vision – there are some foundational elements we have to put in place. We want to make sure that we get our capabilities right internally, but also to make sure that we have the capability to deliver the services that we are committed to,” Bell says. 

“We are trying to create an open and transparent organisation. There are some brilliant people here, and we have the absolute capability to do a great job.”

Sam Trendall

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