Circle Opinion

Legacy application interoperability & integration in the Police Force

Damon Ugargol

For those watching what seems like a proliferation of Police dramas on television, you might be impressed by how easily data is shared between partner organisations: Officers tap into numerous IT systems to retrieve vital information that is key to solving their case.

Sadly, as you would probably expect, the reality is somewhat different.

Data sharing

The Digital Government report from July 2019 highlighted that data sharing is key to ensuring that digital Government can be transformative. It enables departments to work together to produce efficient public services that work for the citizen, thus improving the citizen-Government relationship.

The new National Data Strategy also recognises the importance data has to play in enhancing economic competitiveness and productivity across the UK economy, through new data enabled business models, and the adoption of data driven processes.

Data sharing has long been discussed within Policing.  One of the key recommendations of the Bichard child protection inquiry in 2003 was that all forces across the UK should improve how they collect, store and share data.

In 2005 the Information Systems Strategy for the Police Service (ISS4PS) highlighted “The importance of a national approach to information sharing is now uppermost in current strategy for policing as reflected in the National Policing Plan.”

The following year the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) Guidance on the management of Police Information talked of effective Policing relying on the Police Service to communicate and share information with other forces and partner agencies.

Fast forward 15 years and the National Policing Digital Strategy 2020-30 prioritises the need to deepen collaboration with public sector agencies to unlock effectiveness, by developing ‘fluid’ data and insight exchange, within appropriate ethical and legal boundaries.

Collaboration is necessity

No-one can fail to notice the masses of data that is being created today and the fact that it is growing at an unprecedented rate.

Over the last 15 years, Policing has also started to see an explosion in the data that it holds.  Allied to this is a growing pressure for them to start to utilise and share this data to their advantage.

Citizens are starting to demand and expect more from the Police service. With resources more stretched than ever, Police are now having to look at new ways of working – becoming smarter in utilizing the information they have available to them and sharing it to obtain greater insight.

No-one can accurately predict how the next 15 years will unfold, but as digital trends rapidly evolve across all areas of our lives, the abundance of data and the vast array of sources from which it emanates will continue to grow.

For a long time, public sector bodies have been locked into the mentality that they need to be autonomous in their operation, harbouring their own data and with the ideas of collaboration and sharing being forced rather than instinctive.

More recently though, policing as with all public sector, has seen austerity and the ever increasing need to save money as a driver towards more collaboration and data sharing.

A by-product of this is the ability to provide a better-quality service and a more rewarding citizen experience. Agencies are provided with a more holistic view of the individuals they are dealing with and their circumstances, allowing them to make better informed decisions.

Given this win, win scenario, it seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?

Why’s taking too long?

If the idea of collaboration and sharing of data is clearly beneficial on a number of levels, why have we been discussing it for so long without taking any action?

The biggest obstacle to collaboration and data sharing is arguably a wealth of stand-alone, legacy applications that exist within Police estates.

“Legacy systems are invariably built on outdated architectures with high maintenance costs, inherent inflexibility, redundant features, lack of connectivity and low efficiency. Complex application and process logic is often hard-coded and undocumented.” 

Gartner Oct. 2019

“Legacy systems are a significant barrier to effective Government transformation and digitisation.”

Digital Government report, July 2019

Given the autonomous mentality that previously existed, Police applications were never built with collaboration in mind.

This means that these legacy systems don’t easily provide the ability to interact and share their data with other applications – they are siloed, with the data being accessible only by the application to which it relates.

All is not lost however. There are numerous different approaches we can use to help create interoperability and integration for your legacy applications:

  • Rehost: redeploy the application component to other infrastructure (physical, virtual or cloud) without modifying its code, features or functions. This allows significant, short-term technology benefits without altering the application code base. Benefits of migrating to the cloud include: Improved application resilience; Disaster Recovery; Scalability; Accessibility.
  • Re-platform: migrate to a new runtime platform, making minimal changes to the code, but not the code structure, features or functions. This enables the application to run on modern technology framework while limiting the requirement for a major development project.
  • Refactor: restructure and optimize the existing code (although not its external behaviour) to enable data sharing and improve non-functional attributes. Refactoring focuses on breaking up the legacy code base into smaller manageable modules allowing consistent improvements to the application through small, iterative release cycles.
  • Re-architect: materially alter the code to shift it to a new application architecture and exploit new and better capabilities. This will leverage and extend the application features while introducing new integration concepts to promote data sharing and deduplication. Where appropriate an Application Programming Interface (API) would be developed to allow data sharing between application/modules over a secure HTTPS protocol.
  • Rebuild: redesign or rewrite the application component from scratch while preserving its scope and specifications. When deciding to rebuild an application, consideration should be taken to ensure the architecture is designed in a modular, scalable fashion promoting data sharing and future integrations using a combination of APIs and messaging architecture.
  • Replace: eliminate the former application component altogether and replace it, considering new requirements and needs at the same time.

To find out more about how we could help your organisation unlock integration and interoperability, take a look at our Police page.

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Damon Ugargol