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FoI requests reveal slow but steady adoption of cloud-first stance in UK police forces

Intercity Technology's freedom of information (FoI) request-led poll of UK police forces and their use of technology shines a light on how the sector's attitudes towards cloud and digital transformation are changing

UK police forces appear to be making slow but steady progress towards digitally transforming their operations, according to research from communications IT provider Intercity Technology.

The organisation submitted freedom of information (FoI) requests to 48 UK police forces asking for details of how they spent their IT budgets in 2018, and whether they planned to adopt a cloud-first procurement policy in the next five years.

The over-arching aim of the investigation is to gauge how various government-led bids to encourage the digital transformation of policing have filtered down to police forces across the UK over the past few years.

For instance, in 2017, the National Police Technology Council urged police forces to adopt a cloud-first policy wherever possible to save money and improve the efficiency.

Fast forward to 2019, and the report revealed that more than half of respondents (54%) are planning to adopt a cloud-first procurement strategy within the next one-to-five years, while several others indicated that it was “something they were looking to do”, according to the report.

“Our FoI request revealed a widespread move to a consumption-based IT model using cloud services and commercial off-the-shelf business applications, disagregating these from in-house police IT estates,” the report states.

“This is key to creating a more standardised approach to technology among police forces, ensuring that data and insight can be accessed quickly and securely to enable an efficient response to crime.”

Another initiative referenced in the report includes the August 2018 £100m funding commitment from the Home Office into projects designed to improve how police forces use technology through the Police Transformation Fund initiative.

Based on the responses Intercity received, it seems there is still some work to do on this front, with police forces stating the bulk (40%) of their IT budgets are still devoted to maintaining their existing infrastructure.

“This picture varied significantly across individual police forces. In some cases, nothing was spent on digital transformation in 2018, while levels of investment among other police forces varied significantly,” the report states.

Just under a third (28%) of the IT budgets is set aside for digital transformation projects, the investigation revealed, while the remaining 32% is spent on employing third-parties to manage their infrastructure for them.

The latter is a recent trend, the report claims, as police forces look to outsourcing to help achieve their digital transformation goals, but there can be drawbacks to this approach.

“The rationale is that the resulting increase in IT resources can be dedicated to more transformational or strategic activities. However, this third-party management can often take the form of multi-million pound, long-term system integration contracts, with little flexibility and scope for change without further financial penalties,” the report states.

Ian Jackson, chief commercial officer at Intercity Technology, said the research suggests there is room for improvement where the adoption of new technologies are concerned, but there are also reasons to be cheerful about the report’s findings.

“It’s encouraging to see that the majority of police forces are moving to a cloud-first strategy, which will lay the foundations for a more connected and agile future. This will allow new technologies to be adopted more quickly and ultimately enable the police to respond to crime more effectively,” said Jackson.

“There’s still work to be done when it comes to replacing legacy systems, but with the government currently investing more than £100m into transformative technology in this area, we should soon see the benefits of a police force that embraces cloud technology, unified communications and seamless knowledge sharing and the benefits brought about from savings and agility this brings to maximum effect.”

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