Current police ICT systems are in desperate need of change

Written by John Kellet on 15 November 2018 in Opinion
Opinion

John Kellet of public sector digital specialist Eduserv looks at what at the results of the annual Police ICT Survey tell us about the force’s tech set-up

 

The annual Police ICT Survey results were recently released and showed us the force is less than impressed with their current IT systems. 

With an approval rate of only 45% for their current overall ICT status, the study commissioned by CoPaCC – the police governance organisation – gave us some important insights when it comes to the police’s digital service delivery, user experience and hardware issues, as well as to how these are affecting their performance.

Surveying 4,000 participants from 48 police forces distributed around the UK, the study also showed there is a serious problem with the force’s system integration, as only 18% of its users are satisfied with it. This may come as a surprise, as they use bespoke systems, which should be tailor-made to meet the force’s needs and way of work in every way possible – especially considering their premium cost in comparison to “off-the-shelf” products. With that in mind, it doesn’t seem to make sense why seamless system integration and good user experience are amiss in this scenario. 

This is probably why there seems to be so much staff frustration regarding their ICT investments, with 70% not approving the force’s investments in technology and only 2% being completely satisfied with their ICT services. Besides the perceived wasted investment in their current IT structures, many commented that their systems are not user-friendly and are a “waste of policing time”.

Impact on other sectors
Worryingly, the new survey also showed that data is being stored and duplicated into as many as six different forms, not to mention the poor system integration with other agencies. This is backed up by the fact that only half of the force relies on the information held in their systems – which is something that could potentially compromise other sectors.

If evidence and criminal information are stored to poor standards, we should ask the question: Is the information on criminal lawsuits reliable? Non-conformances in the police system will affect our whole justice system as well. In the best-case scenario, even if the unreliable data doesn’t somehow end up spreading to other sectors, there is still too much time and resources being wasted in ineffective, non-agile systems.

In the short-term, it would be wise – not to mention more cost-effective when it comes to wasted man-hours – to provide the staff with more training, as 73%  of the participants were not happy about the training they had received so far, with a little over a quarter answering that the training they have received to use the systems has been of a high quality and delivered at the right time. In fact, Eduserv’s own research with CIPFA revealed that 65% of public sector organisations agree that capacity and capability in ICT is the biggest barrier to successful digital delivery. 


48
Number of police forces in the UK – 43 across England and Wales, as well Police Scotland, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and three special forces
 

45%
Staff approval rating of the overall ICT status of the police

73%
Percentage of staff who are not happy with the training they have received on current systems


Six
Number of different forms in which some forces are storing and duplicating data

Source: Police ICT Survey


Effective and timely training can not only be a key factor in using the systems more efficiently, but it might also contribute to the overall ICT satisfaction if they want to see better results in this section next year. It is important, however, to ensure a sustainable, long-term solution – which realistically will only be achieved with a total makeover of the police’s ICT systems, as the current ones have proven to be inefficient and not fit-for-purpose.

As a permanent solution, and taking into consideration the force’s known requirements, off-the-shelf products would not only prove to be a more cost-effective solution, but also tackle their main concerns – especially when it comes to system integration, user experience, training and 24/7 support. A specific criticism regarding their current bespoke systems, according to one force member, was that they “shouldn’t need much training if the systems were well designed and intuitive to use”.

Unfortunately for the police, the problem runs deeper than the systems – the hardware itself has proven to be a big obstacle for staff. There needs to be considerable investment in modernising the majority of the hardware, given that 35% of users can’t get access to a computer at work when they need one – not to mention the memory – or lack thereof – of their underpowered desktop computers and regular printer malfunctions.

It is important to ensure a sustainable, long-term solution – which realistically will only be achieved with a total makeover of the police’s ICT systems, as the current ones have proven to be inefficient and not fit-for-purpose

The state of mobile phones also raised much criticism, including comments that they are outdated, have poor signal reception and don’t work properly overall. This has also been affecting their system integration, as mobile applications for police software need multiple logins and staff often have to use their personal phones for work-related tasks. 

Can the force become smarter?
Poor performance and satisfaction of ICT services in the force can be explained by the inept procurement procedures and, consequently, the millions of pounds wasted in purchasing the wrong equipment. One key recommendation would be that the frontline users are consulted throughout the process of development procurement, implementation, and training of a new system.

Considering that the UK is one of the leading nations worldwide when it comes to smart cities and places, and also having in mind that our government has been funding several projects for public sector digitisation – including AI, IoT and machine learning initiatives – it is ironic to see that one of our pillar institutions has such precarious IT and is in desperate need of modernisation.
 

About the author

John Kellet is cloud practice manager at Eduserv – a not-for-profit provider of technology advice and support for public sector organisations and charities

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