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Police IT system failure creates significant backlogs

Independent review of IT system failure that left Greater Manchester Police working with pen and paper finds combination of technical shortcomings, operational procedures and staff training responsible for massive backlogs

Serious performance problems with a new integrated IT system at Greater Manchester Police (GMP) led to backlogs in work and staff losing confidence in the system, according to an independent review.

GMP’s Integrated Operational Policing System (iOPS) went live in July 2019, some 16 months later than planned.

The review found that the ability of GMP to implement iOPS was significantly impaired by technical shortcomings, new operational procedures and a lack of staff training. At one point, police were forced to revert to pen and paper.

These failures created significant backlogs of unresolved work for the force, which led to a dramatic reduction in vulnerable people being referred to support services.

For example, referrals to the multi-agency risk assessment conference (Marac) for high-risk domestic abuse victims fell by 50%, while referrals to Greater Manchester Victims’ Services experienced an 87% reduction.

In total, 686 domestic abuse incidents had not even been risk assessed, in some cases for over 100 days.

According to the review, which was carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) between October and November 2019, the backlogs “didn’t occur due to one particular factor but were a combination of the complex and significant change both in its ICT and in its processes.”

New backlogs

It added that at the time of the inspection period, after iOPS had already been operational for four months, new backlogs were still emerging and being discovered by GMP.

In the week prior to the inspection, GMP identified a further 604 legacy crimes that had not been migrated to iOPS.

According to inspector of constabulary Phil Gormley, the inspection was not a technical appraisal of the iOPS system but a review of the problems encountered following its implementation.

“I don’t underestimate the scale or complexity of this change programme,” he said. “It’s clear some of the difficulties encountered were unavoidable. However, it is similarly clear there are significant lessons for the future.”

“I’ve made a number of recommendations which, if adopted, will enable the force to address the underlying issues of system capability, working practices and staff training. I continue to monitor the situation and hope to see the force restoring staff confidence in iOPs and delivering on the ambitions and intended benefits.”

The iOPS implementation process

In July 2019, GMP replaced its legacy command and control and record management systems with one integrated system, known as iOPS.

This integrated system, costing £29m, is made up of two elements, ControlWorks for command and control, and PoliceWorks for record management.

During the initial implementation, GMP’s main ICT systems were shut down for a 72-hour data migration period, meaning paper records had to be created and then manually converted onto iOPS, consuming considerable time and capacity due to the duplication of work.

On top of this, custody applications and systems failed during the implementation, leaving GMP unable to electronically transfer files to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), again creating a duplication of effort.

HMICFRS identified three principal issues which, working individually and in combination, adversely affected the forces’ ability to operate the iOPS system following its implementation.

These were “technical issues with the ICT systems and infrastructure; changes to operational and working practices, and the training provided to operate the system”.

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Problems faced by staff on a technical level primarily related to the speed with which they could access the system, with some waiting over half an hour for PoliceWorks to load. Additionally, many staff told inspectors of numerous instances where they were unable to find information, such as criminal history, via the iOPS.

“Even when staff have received training, users reported that searches on ControlWorks and PoliceWorks sometimes returned inconsistent or incorrect information about risks,” said the review.

The system also changed the processes associated with certain types of work, such as recording crime and victim referral, which now take much longer to complete as they are no longer automated.  

The review also found that most staff received training for the iOPS system many months prior to its introduction because of an initial delay from March 2018 to July 2019, meaning they had lost their knowledge of and confidence in the system.

Refresher training was subsequently delivered, but staff told inspectors it was ineffective. “The training primarily focused on technical aspects of iOPS, not the changed methods of working and new operational practices demanded for its introduction. In short, staff told us they felt ill-prepared for the changes necessitated by iOPS,” said the review.

However, it noted that staff confidence in ControlWorks was much higher than PoliceWorks, although it does not explain why.

Moving forward

HMICFRS concluded its review by calling on GMP to develop a “comprehensive plan” with “a sustainable approach” to address the system’s problems.

To achieve this, the review makes several recommendations to the GMP, including a review of its internal communication plan to ensure all staff are informed, consulted and engaged with the ongoing development of iOPS, as well as an evaluation of the operational effectiveness of its staff training.

On top of this, GMP should also take steps to enhance the search capability in iOPS to make information easier to find, and review all cases where people were not referred to victims’ services to ensure any vulnerable people received the appropriate support.

“The force has taken some action to address these points. For example, it is working closely with the designers of the iOPS system to update it and resolve technical issues,” said the review.

“However, at the time of our inspection, there was no overarching plan which assured us of its ability to prevent the recurrence of further backlogs.”

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