Lack of mandatory power has not stopped Pito

Pito has not been standing still on national projects while the Home Office makes up its mind about the organisation's future.

Pito has not been standing still on national projects while the Home Office makes up its mind about the organisation's future.

The Pito-lead Airwave project, which some expected to be difficult to sell to local forces, has now been accepted throughout England, Wales and Scotland. The system is regularly used by more than 120,000 officers.

The system that runs the violent sex offenders register, Visor, has also been accepted by all forces in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, illustrating Pito's ability to introduce national systems without mandatory powers, said Pito chief executive Phillip Webb.

However, introducing the Impact national intelligence system is fundamentally different. "Impact is not an IT programme; it is a major change programme. We are the technology delivery partner but there are other stakeholders," he said.

This is where having better "levers" on force's IT strategy might help. For example, North Wales Police has rolled out a complete IT overhaul, including an intelligence system that does not comply with national technical standards, Webb said.

Although the force applies national standards on intelligence processes, North Wales' architecture and field structure could make automatic information sharing across forces difficult.

Similar problems exist at other forces, Webb said. "There is a commitment to do it in time, but it is the length of time it is going to take before they fully converge that is the issue. We need to put down a timetable. I would like to see it sooner than the police forces would."

Forces could find other ways to share information to comply with government deadlines, but this could mean more work for them, he said.

"If we had national mandatory powers it would help, but you need to be careful; you do not need a sledgehammer to crack walnuts." Mandatory powers would only be used on the most severely lagging forces, he said. Since the Bichard Report into the Soham murders, there had been a greater willingness to focus on the need for national standards in information sharing, said Webb.

Eric Woods, government practice director at research firm Ovum, said the government should publish the McFarland Review into police IT strategy and its response as soon as possible. "If it is left unresolved, that could delay [some projects] while the decision making process goes on. I think we need a clear decision."

Police forces control their own IT decision-making and spending, Woods said. For them to respond to demands for more effective information sharing, as detailed in the Bichard Report, and greater efficiency, outlined by the Gershon Review, they need to co-operate more effectively. "That is one of the reasons the broad findings [of the McFarland review] need to be made public," said Webb.

"This issue is ironing out the detail of that authority: there are many stakeholders with different views and that is one of the reasons for the delay. Bichard and Gershon suggest a greater central co-ordination of IT. There is a strong case for that but politically it is a sensitive issue."

A Home Office spokesman said, "The review of Pito has been completed and is under consideration by Home Office ministers. It is a substantial and valuable analysis that deserves careful consideration. The government has made clear its intention to publish the review's report, not least in its response in December to Michael Bichard on progress on his recommendations."

While the Home Office considers its position, police IT professionals working locally and nationally must get on with the agenda in front of them, and wait to see if the rules change.

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