Change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again

Wayne Parkes
Wayne Parkes

Artificial Intelligence. Augmented reality. Big data. Predictive analytics. Blockchain. Internet of Things. Policing today is confronted with an ever-expanding array of digital disruption, some offering opportunity and others threatening challenge for the service.

Yet, while it may feel like the pace of technology change is already overwhelming, you can guarantee that it will always be changing at a faster pace than it is today.

And that’s why policing must not – and cannot – stand still.

At last week’s Police ICT Summit, which took place in Manchester, Commissioner Ian Dyson launched the National Policing Digital Strategy for 2020-2030. As co-author along with Ian Bell, CEO of Police ICT Company, I was delighted that this product of more than nine-months’ work has now landed.

The strategy builds on Policing Vision 2025, which is the foundation of the NEP’s transformational work that is already well under way with police forces across England and Wales.

But it sets out a new digital ambition for our service through a set of tangible digital priorities for policing and the key data and technology building blocks required to deliver them.

The National Policing Digital Strategy for 2020-2030 was launched at the Police ICT Summit

Why we need a new strategy

Policing is at a critical juncture. The pace of technology continues to advance and digital adoption is accelerating. As I mentioned, Policing does not exist in a vacuum: we must respond to evolving demands on our service and overcome the internal challenges that currently hamper us.

We have made significant progress over the past few years, particularly around mobile technology and migration to cloud services, but we now need to do more to meet the growing digital demands.

And we cannot continue as we have been doing impeded by complex decision-making structures and hampered by the challenges of modernising a legacy infrastructure. The time is right for us to make fundamental and transformational choices: the way we work, harness data, exploit technologies, collaborate with partners, and organise ourselves.

So, digital transformation is central to our 2030 digital policing ambition. It drives improvements in data, technology and, most importantly, the skills of the people that lead, manage and use it. To do this we need to prioritise and focus our efforts across the service and be clear on what is needed to deliver it.

That means we must make the best of local, front-line innovation and creativity, while finding the means to scale and deploy nationally and at pace.

And we must also recognise that we have a considerable legacy technology estate so investments must take account of the maturity and starting point of all forces.

A better, digital ambition for policing

This National Policing Digital Strategy sets out a new digital ambition for our service through a set of tangible digital priorities for policing and the key data and technology building blocks required to deliver them.

It has been developed by the service in response to the digital challenges facing the service but ultimately for the benefit of the public we serve. It identifies key digital trends and aims to provide guidance for how we start to address these key questions. In seeking to answer some of these difficult questions and understand the complexities our service will encounter, emerging technologies, as illustrated in the diagram below, generate significant interest.

Policing futures framework

But Policing does not operate in a vacuum. Technology affects all our lives. It’s transforming the way businesses, commerce, banking and the retail worlds – as well as the public – work, run and live.

The technologies have varying levels of significance, maturity, and adoption rates, from autonomous vehicles that are currently in working demos, to big data and analytics that are in mainstream development.

The strategy also considers the internal and external pressures facing the service and sets out five key digital ambitions, each with a set of digital priorities to guide focus and investment, namely:

  • seamless citizen experience
  • addressing harm
  • enabling officers and staff
  • embedding a whole public system approach
  • empowering the private sector.

It also sets out how digital can transform key dimensions of the police service alongside the priorities that support this, the key data and technology enablers that will provide the foundation for digital transformation, along with the implications on our people, ethics and policing capabilities, and outlines the considerations for how policing mobilises and organises effectively to deliver the strategy over the next five years.

The strategy is written with the firm belief that the challenges associated with modernisation are surmountable, provided they are part of a concerted and coordinated movement across policing.

How we enable these ambitions

Delivering the ambition and priorities will require investment in our workforce, the re-engineering of established ways of working, and the modernisation of the underpinning data and technology foundations.

The strategy focusses on these foundations, proposes a set of activities that will enable their creation and assesses the key considerations in their delivery.

It sets out seven data and technology enablers that underpin the modernisation of our service and allow us to improve our capabilities.

We need to invest in these enablers in a collaborative way to achieve the priorities we aspire to achieve in the next 5 to 10 years. In setting out the data and technology enablers, we have also considered the impact on people, ethics and capabilities.

Moving together

I’m pleased to say that the service is committed to the delivery of this strategy and it will be at the heart of our digital transformation both locally and nationally.

We need to move together across forces on this, realising economies of scale, sharing skills and generating insight; this could be in how we embed digital leadership and capabilities, how we get the most out of our legacy systems, how we ensure we achieve carbon neutral solutions, or how we innovate with emerging technologies.

Policing in the UK sets the standard for law enforcement agencies across the globe, and we are rightly proud of our Policing Model, which provides local responsiveness and strong accountability.

But in every sphere of policing a balance must be struck which respects local control whilst realising efficiency and effectiveness through appropriate national intervention.

If we believe in a National Digital Strategy and recognise it as something that will continue to evolve, we must create the capability that will allow it to happen. If we do not change our approach, our current risks and problems will be exacerbated by the evolving pressures and accelerating pace of change.

The prize is the ability to deliver common solutions that transform the working practices of our workforce. And with it we’ll improve the outcomes for citizens.

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