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CIO Interview: Janne Suuriniemi, Finland’s National Police Board

Finland’s National Police Board CIO overhauls a major IT transformation in mid-flight. He tells Computer Weekly about the challenges and his answers to them

The Finnish police need increasingly modern IT systems to power their operations across everything from customer services to criminal investigations. Janne Suuriniemi, CIO at Finland’s National Police Board, has first-hand experience of the challenges involved.

When Suuriniemi joined the National Police Board in 2012, the organisation was in the middle of a complete overhaul of its information systems and digital services. At the core of this process was the development of a resource planning system, Vitja, which would streamline operations and improve access by replacing all legacy services with one modern IT system.

“The idea was to merge several separate systems into this new entity, which would cover all the core police processes,” says Suuriniemi.

“The goal was to digitalise the entire [operational chain] from the Emergency Response Centre, which receives the call, to us – where the case is investigated – and finally to the prosecutor, who decides on any further action.”

But Vitja, which started in 2009, suffered severe delays. Only one part of the project was implemented by early 2014, when the project was originally scheduled to be complete, and the entire project was put on hold.

“It was a huge deal, even on the governmental level, that we discontinued Vitja and dismantled the agreement with the service provider. We did it because we saw it wasn’t going anywhere,” says Suuriniemi.

“When you start a project of this scale with a supplier, you need to have the courage to take action.”

Vitja is now back on track and a complete roll-out is expected by the end of 2018. This time, the National Police Board has approached the project very differently.

Breaking up a project

Looking back, Suuriniemi says the earlier challenges with Vitja stemmed mostly from its scope. By the time it is launched in 2018, Vitja will be a €25m project affecting more than 18,900 users in the police, customs, border guard and defence forces. To better handle this size, Suuriniemi introduced a revised project management model built around key milestones.

“When we re-planned and rescheduled the project, it was chopped into several smaller segments. We also took project management and monitoring into our own hands,” says Suuriniemi. “This has led to a model where we can follow how the project advances and reacts quickly.”

This is an important shift, as previously issues only surfaced when projects were close to completion. Suuriniemi says milestones are vital for a project of this scale and that the service provider also recognises and understands the full scope of any project to which it commits.

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“We don’t go forward in large development areas anymore, we assess things in collaboration and approve them up to the next milestone.”

The supplier model must be based on the project’s needs, says Suuriniemi. Vitja was previously procured in a complete package, where the supplier both supplied the resources and managed the project. Now the National Police Board guides the project, while the suppliers provide their expertise and work resources to it.

Key to this transformation in supplier collaboration has been moving all parties involved in Vitja (the National Police board; Haltik, an ICT agency for Finland’s security services; and the suppliers) to the same offices. Suuriniemi says the model was introduced as part of the corrective actions taken in 2014, and has proved to be an effective and flexible working method lowering barriers of communication.

Back to insourcing

Thanks to the project model, Vitja is making good progress. Standards, new supplier partners and the system architecture framework have all been finalised.

Suuriniemi expects Vitja’s basic functionalities, including access rights, role management and logs, to be ready in late spring 2016.

“Next we’ll start to build the operational systems on top of this,” says Suuriniemi. “This way we can guarantee the chosen functionalities work well, before we move on.”

These advances coincide with upcoming changes to the National Police Board’s IT organisation. Currently it’s a small unit of 30 to 40 people – including IT experts appointed to select departments inside the police – and almost all IT production had been outsourced to Haltik.

But this will change in April 2016 when Haltik will be closed as part of larger governmental changes, and around 70 of its IT experts integrate to the National Police Board.

“In a way, this is insourcing of the services critical to the police,” says Suuriniemi. “Policing sector dependent expertise will be relocated back to our organisation.”

Suuriniemi welcomes the move as it brings IT operations closer to the actual needs in the police. The same people who evaluate the technical side of a project will gain a better understanding of the police’s internal processes, which means they can better communicate their needs to suppliers.

“This is exactly what we need to improve [projects with suppliers] as we have more people in the grey area between operations and ICT who can understand both,” adds Suuriniemi.

Going digital

Despite its scope, Vitja doesn’t occupy all of Suuriniemi’s time. Advancing mobility inside the police and introducing digital services for citizens is increasingly taking up his team’s time.

In fact, a recent success story is the police’s digitalisation of passport renewals (the police issue passports in Finland).

Passports can be applied for online, including photo submission directly from the photographer, and processed digitally. Once the passport is ready it can be collected from a retail kiosk of the applicant’s choosing. A visit to a police station is needed only if the applicant’s details change.

IT has to be involved and up-to-date with everything that is happening
Janne Suuriniemi, National Police Board

“The idea behind this is that we can focus our resources where we really need to have someone interact with the customers,” says Suuriniemi.

Response to the system has been extremely positive. The system was implemented in November 2014 and in two months 54.5% of all passport applications were started online.

Suuriniemi will introduce similar digital processes for permit and licence applications later in 2016, while also placing focus on improving the mobility of internal police processes. The aim is to enable officers to access multiple services on the move so they can do most of their work in the field, rather than having to go back to an office.

Suuriniemi says the challenge is finding the right systems for such a highly regulated environment where data security and management are vital. The introduction of digital services can even require legislative changes, but Suuriniemi says the ongoing public discussion about the need for digitalisation is a crucial driving force.

“There isn’t really any administrative or operative processes that don’t have something to do with technology. This is why IT has to be involved and up-to-date with everything that is happening,” says Suuriniemi. 

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