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CIO Interview: Ian Bell, CIO, Cambridgeshire Police Service

The CIO of Cambridgeshire Police Service talks about the constabulary’s move to digital for collaboration and information sharing in its effort to increase efficiency

The majority of a police officer’s time is spent in the field dealing with crimes, and as much as films like to joke about it, this does incur a tremendous amount of paperwork.

To reduce the amount of time officers are required to be in the station and cut down on the number of paper forms that need filing, Cambridgeshire Constabulary embarked on an 18-month digitisation project.

CIO of Cambridgeshire Constabulary Ian Bell, alongside head of service delivery Jonathan Black and business lead Andy Gipp, spoke to Computer Weekly about how it is using Microsoft Windows Phones, Lenovo Thinkpads and a custom-built app to give officers more time on the street and increase efficiency and collaboration across the force.

The constabulary created Programme Metis to act as a transformational programme to help the force do things differently, enabling collaboration across Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

“This has been a massive learning curve for everyone,” says Bell. “Metis was born out of re-envisioning the whole of our organisation.”

Chief constable Simon Parr went to Bell with ideas of how to adapt the business to help officers engage with each other and the public more effectively.

It became clear users wanted the same technology at work as they had at home. The team at the police force used Microsoft to deploy a consistent experience, regardless of whether an officer was using a phone or tablet out and about, or a laptop in the office.

“We need to become an IT-enabled organisation, but if we don’t provide what’s appropriate then it’s never going to change,” says Bell.

Throughout the enterprise, Windows 8.1 is used on Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga laptops and on around 7,500 Nokia Lumia smartphones, through a corporate-owned and personally enabled (Cope) strategy to make the most of the money already invested in Microsoft licences across the organisation.

Bell says sticking with Microsoft was great from a familiarity perspective. “We understand people have consumer products, such as those by Apple, at home, but most people have a Windows desktop at some point as well,” he says.

Enabling remote working

Many organisations, especially in the public sector, are struggling with costs due to austerity. As discussed at the Government Digital Service (GDS) Sprint 2015 event, technology should be an enabler as well as a cost cutter.

The increased flexibility provided by the Cope scheme has allowed for efficiency savings, with hundreds and thousands of pounds previously spent on buildings reduced as a result of hot desking and flexible working.

Although there has been some resistance, as there is with any major IT overhaul, staff on the whole feel more valued, as they are given the flexibility and opportunity to work from wherever they want – be it at home, in a station more local to them or on the beat.

“What we get is greater visibility of frontline cops. Every one of them out there has a Lenovo T10 in their hands, which gives them the capability to work on the street like they would work in the office. The feedback we’re getting from the public is positive,” says Bell.

This means there is no requirement for an officer to come back to the station during their shift because they can perform admin tasks on the go, allowing them to spend more time in the community.

The police force has also already begun to change its traditional “command and control” model by pushing relevant data from 999 and 101 calls to officers based in the vicinity on location services. The data also helps them prioritise tasks based on importance.

“We’re starting to get to the point where we can pinpoint efficiency on a time basis,” says Bell.

The tuServ application

Part of enabling police officers to work from anywhere meant developing an application with the functionality needed for officers’ day-to-day tasks.

A majority of the applications used by the force were 10 or more years old, and were not designed to work on a mobile platform.

Described by Black, head of service delivery, as a “one-stop shop” for officers, the tuServ application was built to allow users to complete their common tasks while they are out of the office.

As a lot of the processes performed by officers on the street are form-based, the application provides digital versions of these forms. It also replaces officers’ paper notepads, and records information from crime scenes using text, audio and video.

This makes it easier for those not at the crime scene to understand what was investigated. It also gives greater ability for sharing and data capture, whereas officers would previously have needed to rely solely on paper notes or memory.

A real-world example

Officers are often required to interface with other public sector bodies as part of a case. One example is when officers are required to interview individuals held in custody. Officers were previously required to conduct these interviews on-site in prisons, and then return to the police station to write up the file to send to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Due to increased mobility and mobile security, the submission to CPS can now be prepared on the go rather than in the office, reducing the amount of time and travel needed to perform that particular task, which would previously have taken all day.

“Text is very one-dimensional – you can read a statement and form a conclusion as you’re reading it, much like reading a book. But if you sit and watch someone give their version of an account like you would do in a court room, you’re going to get facial expressions and emotions – that’s three-dimensional,” says Gipp.  

TuServ can also be used offline, syncing the next time the device is in a networked area.

Once the requirements had been decided on, the constabulary outsourced development of the app to Black Marble. The software developer used an agile development approach.

The first iteration of the application was launched in January 2015, with regular updates to be applied throughout the year.

The force has more than 300 types of software, and although the application does not replicate all of them, it does allow officers to perform key functions.

The main advantage of the application is that all recorded documentation is searchable, allowing quicker access across the organisation to data captured over various cases.

Victims also feel more secure and confident in data being shared through the application as it is encrypted, whereas before officers may have shared data through email.

“Replacing notebooks alone create half an hour difference [in efficiency] for an officer, but when you tie in mobility, it increases to an hour and a half of efficiency per cop per day,” says Bell.

“This is true digitisation from end to end. It's not just about taking an old, normal paper-based form and making it into an electronic form that's used in the same way,” he adds.

Moving forward across the board

In the future, Cambridgeshire Constabulary hopes text will no longer be the go-to for data sharing. The force highlights there is a need for open data standards and sharing between other organisations, such as the Crown Prosecution Service, courts, solicitors and the Probation Service.

Currently, all of these services have their own processes. This results in duplicated data, which further complicates handing over cases.

“The efficiency programmes are in place across those partner agencies, it is just a matter of time,” says Bell.

More emphasis has also been put on self-service, allowing victims and members of the public to better interact with the force and allow them to contact the police in the correct way for a particular problem.

Members of the public can visit the constabulary website, where they are given information about who to phone or which department or service they need to contact.

“Channel shift is massive for us, and it's about how we open up our organisation to the public,” says Bell. “From an engagement perspective, the public become more information-aware really quickly because we have that information online.” 

This will be developed further in the future through webchat and other means to divert interactions to the correct channels.

The force also pinpoints the GDS government-as-a-platform model as a step forward in the development of information-sharing platforms across public-sector departments.

Bell says the common applications being developed across government will facilitate the sharing of information where it can really make a difference, such as in social services, child welfare, vulnerable adults or immigration.

“The outcome we’re looking for is better intelligence and how we make the best use of information. Without the information, we’re nothing as an organisation,” he adds.

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