The police service in England and Wales has unveiled a new national IT strategy that will require major business process harmonisation across all regional forces.
The Information Systems Strategy for the Police Service (ISS4PS) is designed to overcome the barriers to information and intelligence sharing highlighted by the Bichard Inquiry following the 2002 Soham murders.
The police service has no national intelligence system, despite proposals put forward in 1994. The new strategy is backed by the Home Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Police Authorities and the Police IT Organisation (Pito).
It will be delivered by the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) when the organisation comes into operation in April next year.
In running the ISS4PS, the NPIA will have powers to impose standards for technology procurement as well as being responsible for a far-reaching business process re-engineering programme.
The agency will have mandatory powers to impose national standards in technology and business processes to improve information sharing between forces. Pito, which the NPIA replaces, has no such powers.
However, mandatory powers will be used pragmatically, said Andy Waters, ISS4PS programme manager at Pito. "Police forces are now acting corporately. It is their strategy and they realise they cannot carry on as they are. It is also in line with government thinking."
Chief superintendent Bruce Gilbert, who handles the technology beat for the Police Superintendents Association, welcomed the new approach.
"Every police officer understands the need for information and data sharing, and these new proposals, because they are standards-based, give us an opportunity to overcome the problems of the past," he said.
A set of 300 technology standards will govern system procurement at a local level. Requests to deviate from these standards will have to be approved by the NPIA's Enterprise Architecture Board.
Although the process allows for negotiation between police forces and the NPIA, the agency will have the authority to impose standards.
Peter Clarke, principal analyst at Ovum, said the political climate was putting pressure on police forces to improve their information sharing and there was the will within forces to make it happen.
"The circumstances look more auspicious for success. Post 7/7, police forces have come under greater pressure from independent police authorities and government to get their act together," he said.
Under the ISS4PS, forces will increasingly use a national police XML standard to allow information sharing between local and national systems, and service oriented architectures will play a key role in allowing information sharing between legacy systems.
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