With approximately 135,000 full time officers across 43 police forces in England and Wales, the coordination of policing at local and national scale is a significant and complex task.

Adding to this complexity is the changing nature of policing due to the diversity of communities being served and protected, and increasing engagement between police forces and citizens through digital channels. Both of these factors continue to drive changes in both the pace and nature of policing.

These changes also come at a time when there is a new emphasis on positive and proactive policing.  Being proactive whilst coping with greater demand relies on insights and initiative gained through more advanced use of technology and data. Data must be shared, unified and analysed across forces at local, regional, and national levels to enable proactive and effective digital policing.

The National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC), the policing body responsible for coordinating the deployment of police officers and staff from across UK policing, is cognisant of these competing needs, challenges and requirements. NPCC recently announced a review to understand the operational effectiveness and productivity of policing, whilst also identifying effective operating models are capable of achieving objectives set out in the Policing Vision 2025 and National Policing Digital Strategy. The scope of NPCC’s review placed specific focus and importance on how digital, data and technology can drive efficiency and better outcomes.

But what are the central ingredients to ensure that digital transformation is accelerated and de-risked to improve the working lives of police officers as well enhancing their efforts to better serve the needs of the public?

Create Systems That Users Trust

Firstly, it’s important to create digital services and platforms that officers and citizens want to use and trust. We have all become attuned to using high quality digital services for just about every aspect of work and life. These services must be effective, or else they do not last.

It is crucial that, when digital services are designed, user needs are placed at the heart of the process. A key element of the Policing Vision 2025 is to improve levels of trust between the public and policing bodies. Effective digital services will certainly help improve communication, which forms the basis of establishing trust.

The Interoperability Challenge

Over the past decade, the 45 police forces representing national policing have enjoyed independence when procuring IT systems and technology.  This independence has, in turn, meant that systems within and across forces have not always been designed to be interoperable (i.e. to integrate with other systems and enable the secure and free-flowing sharing of data). Improving this interoperability and the standards that guide it is now recognised as a key enabler of digital transformation and proactive policing, and its importance cannot be over emphasised.

To meet this significant challenge, organisations like techUK have co-developed the InterOp-Pol initiative – a techUK member-led initiative, which aims to change commercial behaviours and mindsets through the development of a charter that encourages technology suppliers to commit to openness and interoperability in the design and delivery of digital policing services.

We can clearly see the significant and positive benefits that interoperability initiatives such as this have through similar work we have delivered with NHS England and NHS Improvement on a major national ‘Learning from Patient Safety Events’ service that uses open standards such as DICOM, IHE, and HL7 to enable secure data sharing.  As more and more care settings share patient safety data, the health system as a whole has made huge strides in using data science techniques to proactively identify, investigate and decide safety actions based on millions of data points.

Interoperability and system integration can already be a reality in policing. We’re currently working with NPoCC to transform how the Mercury platform shares knowledge and manages mutual aid requests for specialist policing capabilities across the UK for globally significant events such as COP26 and the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. Mercury is helping NPoCC to adapt to changes in the modern policing environment by improving interoperability, which enabled more joined-up forecasting and management of policing resources at a national level.

Tackling Legacy Through Cloud Migration

A further barrier to accelerating and de-risking digital transformation is of course the issue of legacy technology. The ability to deliver effective digital services that take advantage of the latest technology and data innovations is limited by the fact that much technology and infrastructure is now relatively aged.

The decommissioning of legacy technology is by no means straightforward. However, there are well trodden paths for transitioning to cloud-based platforms and services, which open the door to a wealth of new technical capabilities and capacity that can drive, accelerate, and de-risk digital transformation and the retirement of legacy technology.

Ultimately, digital transformation for such a complex area of public services is not easy when the scale of policing is so significant, and the importance to the public so great. The good news is that many of the steps needed to do this – taking a user-centred design approach, focusing on interoperability, and modernising legacy technology – are clear, achievable, and proven in similarly complex sectors.

 A version of this article was originally published in Policing Insight on 21 November 2022.