Circle Opinion

Overcoming barriers to digital transformation in the police force

Damon Ugargol

Digital transformation is essential for the police force to stay relevant, effective and responsive in its approach to protecting and serving the public. Over the next five years, it’s estimated that policing in England and Wales will spend between £7bn – £9bn on technology alone. However, the scale of the change poses a range of challenges for police forces.

Digital transformation has the potential to touch every part of the policing process, changing the way police work, harness data, exploit available technologies, collaborate with partner organisations and organise themselves. Each of these issues has wide reaching consequences, both for the industry as a whole and for individual officers. A responsible technology roadmap must therefore focus on the capabilities, processes and approaches that can maximise efficiency and learning across the whole policing system while meeting the specific needs of individual contexts.

Here we examine the key challenges faced when implementing new technology, as well as the ways forces can minimise risk and maximise ROI.

Discover how digital technology is transforming policing in our new white paper – Policing in the Digital Age

What are the key obstacles to digital transformation?

The challenges in modernising technology in the police force are similar to those faced by other public and private organisations. While the pace of technological development has accelerated rapidly in recent years, the pace of organisational change has, inevitably, lagged behind. This results in institutions attempting to both change their structures and processes and the technology behind them simultaneously, resulting in unclear scope, competing incentives and a lack of organisational clarity.

Policing banner

In the police force, this leads to issues such as:

Legacy technology limitations

Historically siloed procurement processes lead to a range of embedded tools that are no longer fit for purpose. Even systems that may have once been cutting-edge can be rendered unsuitable by a change in context, or rapid advances in technology. This leads to an inefficient patchwork of tools that don’t connect with one another, reducing efficiency and increasing spend, especially if locked-in to existing suppliers for long term contracts.

Clashing organisational structures

Structurally, the pace of change has raced ahead of the protocols that govern its implementation. This can be seen not only in the slow pace of procurement processes that can end up delivering outdated solutions, but also in the way those solutions are conceptualised. For example, there is still much to be decided on the appropriate use of how police forces use automation tools, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and the internet of things (IoT) in their role. In the absence of a clear path forward, it’s hard to take the next step.

Underinvestment in key areas

In an era of heavy budget scrutiny, public organisations of all kinds are wary of the risk of expenditure on systems that do not deliver value. While the public may be most interested in the number of frontline officers deployed, the less glamorous side of the policing – back-end infrastructure, data and communications – receive less attention, despite their crucial role in preventing crime.

Inconsistent understanding of data

The volume of data now available to businesses, consumers and public institutions is both huge and growing. While there have been promising results in steps towards using big data in policing, the real value can only be realised when aligned with a broader strategy that can source, structure, analyse and leverage data in a consistent way across different forces, platforms and contexts.

Creating a tailored transformation strategy

National policing development guidelines take into account that meeting these issues will not be a one-size-fits-all solution. The precise form and impact varies from force to force, depending on a range of factors. Moving forward requires a targeted approach that takes into account the unique circumstances of each force and deploys relevant strategies. A transformation plan must therefore include:

  • Awareness of the local challenges in policing and needs of the public
  • An assessment of the legacy systems in place
  • Plans to leverage available skills, personnel and budget
  • Appropriate timelines for change
  • A definition of success and project ROI

transformation plan

A key element of digital transformation for police forces will be appropriate collaboration with technology and change management providers. Given the huge range of products now available, there is scope to create unique technology stacks for individual forces that nevertheless connect to and enhance the capabilities of the wider police network.

By working with an experienced provider, you can create a transformation strategy that meets your unique challenges with a combination of relevant tools and process management. Outside advisors can also help streamline the planning and execution journey by offering a strategic view as to how operational processes can change, or be adapted, to make the most of emerging technologies.

Accelerating the digital journey

With the pace of technological change showing no signs of slowing, the challenges and opportunities that digital disruption presents to policing have the potential to become defining issues for the service.

digital journey

To maintain its leading position in world policing and continue to operate as an effective public service, the police force in the UK must find a way to move past the challenges associated with digital transformation and embrace the opportunities available.

CACI has extensive experience working with large scale transformation in major industries, using agile, iterative approaches to test processes, new software and collaboration strategies to deliver tangible value quickly and cost-effectively.

Find out more about how digital technology is shaping the future of policing in our new guide – Policing in the Digital Age.

You can also visit our policing page to find out more information.

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Damon Ugargol