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Unisys nears completion of SaaS-based upgrade of Holmes2 police IT system

Global IT provider Unisys says the last of the 43 police forces in England and Wales that need to upgrade to the cloud-based version of its Holmes2 shared investigations system will complete in early 2020

The roll-out of an updated version of the Home Office Large Major Enquiry System (Holmes2) to 43 police forces across England and Wales will complete in early 2020, supplier Unisys has confirmed.

The Holmes2 system is a stalwart of the police technology landscape, with its earliest iteration coming into being during the mid-1980s in response to criticisms about the inability of police forces in different parts of the UK to share data and, consequently, build links between related cases.

Nowadays the system is used by forces to assist with organised and serious crime investigations, and to help manage their disaster responses during terror attacks.

The latest version also includes functionality to make it easier for members of the public to upload and share data from their smartphones, tablets and PC to assist police forces with investigations.

It works by providing forces with a real-time view of live operations to inform the in-the-moment decision making process of officers while in the field, and ensure police resources are being used as efficiently as possible.

Since 2016, Unisys has been concerned with rolling out an updated, software-as-a-service (SaaS) version of the system to its user base, with the last of the 43 police forces set to go-live with the setup during the first half of 2020.

The update is the result of Unisys embarking on what the company’s public sector lead, Sri Iyer, termed a complete rewrite of the entire Holmes2 system following years of incremental changes being made to the on-premise version.

“In 2010, we took an approach to say we need to take [Holmes2] to the next level, and bring in a bit of revolution. So we [embarked] on a rewrite of the entire platform on a web-based technology so it can be ubiquitously accessed from any desktop,” he said.

“The system went live in 2016, and the idea was – as forces come to a natural exit point on their on-premise system, then we will migrate them over to the cloud.”

On the whole, this migration strategy has worked well, said Iyer, despite some initial pushback.

“In the early days, forces were reticent to get onto a cloud because they had their own IT teams who were protective of what they were doing and this was eliminating the entire IT layer,” he said.

“It was a big, transformational thing, not just for delivering the system, but for embracing a new way of providing IT, so it took some time. But the good news is at this point in time, over 90% of the forces have now gone into the cloud.”

Since doing so, this has helped to boost collaboration between forces and, in turn, improve their responsiveness during major incidents, including the Grenfell Tower fire, the London Bridge terrorist attacks, and the Manchester Arena bombing, which all took place in 2017.

“In all these incidents, in a very short period of time there were hundreds and thousands of calls, and no single force could reasonably react to that kind of volume if they were working alone,” said Iyer.

This kind of collaboration is now easier to do than in previous versions of Holmes2, when it was not uncommon for forces to adapt the system for own uses, he added.

“Although there were 43 instances of Holmes2 previously, the forces were all using it in different ways, and one of the biggest journeys on top of moving to the cloud was [working towards] business alignment to make sure they all use the technology in the same way now,” he said.

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