Now is not the time to take the foot off the pedal in the journey to the cloud, explain Rahul Gupta and Richard Davis.
You can learn a great deal on a police advanced driving course. It is a memorable experience. And the learning applies away from the car – even as far as the IT department.
There is a counter-intuitive proposition many drivers learn for the first time on the course – namely, when your instinct is to put your foot on the brake, the safest and best thing may be to maintain pressure on the accelerator. This is helpful to know if you find yourself negotiating a motorway bend at speed – but can also inform wider business thinking. The latest ‘bend’ for policing is a likely period of renewed austerity but, counter-intuitive as it may seem, now is the time to maintain momentum in digital transformation and collaboration – especially that key catalyst: the journey to the cloud.
Policing has finished its first ‘age of IT’ – with mature systems widely in place – and can now move to true digital transformation to meet the demands of the service and the public. Central to this is the effective use of large, complex volumes of data – but this is challenging and for every success there are false starts, delays and failed programmes, obsolete technologies or systems that frustrate users.
The National Enabling Programmes (NEP) successfully delivered the building blocks of cloud adoption (Office 365, identity and access management and the National Management Centre) but silos remain. Policing knows it needs to move operational data into the cloud to take advantage of ever evolving analytical tools, enable wider collaboration and so improve operational outcomes.
But just as the strategies and organisations have bravely aligned around a clear pathway to collaboration, transformation and cloud adoption, the shadow of a fresh phase of austerity has led many to pause and behaviours on the ground risk a familiar retrenchment: a circling of the wagons to weather the battle ahead.
The problem with failing to embrace the inevitable future challenge of cloud is that policing is already playing catch-up and cannot afford to fall further behind. Going back to our driver on the sharp bending motorway, braking may seem attractive, but it would be dangerous and counter-productive. Police leaders need to keep their foot on the gas and be clear on why forces should embrace cloud, why now, and how might they do it.
Why should forces embrace cloud?
There are technical, commercial, and operational benefits of cloud and each will resonate differently depending on the audience.
Technical – As data demands from digital intelligence, investigations and forensics grow, forces face increasing challenges in terms of storage, access, availability, security and maintenance. Cloud is the means for them to scale rapidly and respond at a pace and cost not possible with traditional facilities and infrastructure. In addition, cloud native analytics are now both leading edge and accessible to support exploitation of this data. Security rightly remains a major consideration, but central to the success of the global hyperscale cloud providers in financial services, government or security are the protections inherent in these services. Moving to the cloud also reduces the need for multiple hosting providers and the associated assurances each time.
Commercial – Major cloud technology suppliers are focusing on policing, giving opportunities to transform the management of ICT provision. Cloud-based hosting allows forces to consolidate supply chains and remove many of the overheads associated with acquiring, configuring, securing and operating IT infrastructure. As such, it enables large-scale outsourcing, with the provider taking responsibility for providing world-class data centres and associated IT infrastructure. Forces will have opportunities offered by moving to a ‘pay-for-only-what-you-use’ approach (allowing flexibility to change direction quickly) and the switch from CapEx (capital expenditure) to OpEx (operating expenses), which can reduce the reliance on annual funding cycles or need for large capital investment.
Operational – For policing to embrace cloud, however, these arguments need to be supported by tangible improvements to operational delivery. This brings us back to the data challenge and:
Why embrace cloud now?
These benefits are already somewhat well known, so why should policing embrace them now, especially in the face of fresh budgetary challenges as public services struggle with the financial legacy of Covid-19. What is the argument for keeping the foot on the gas when there are so many competing priorities? The answers are a mix between regaining lost ground and preparing for the future:
How should policing move to the cloud?
As with any major shift in a service as large and diverse as policing, there are practicalities that need to be addressed during the define, design, and deliver phases.
There are different strategic routes and forces need to choose the one that best meets their circumstances. Options include:
This is part of the business case for cloud and the associated commercial and procurement strategies. The approach to procuring cloud is different to that for traditional data centres. The commercial charging models vary by the provider making it difficult to compare; the force needs to understand the shared responsibility model for security and where and how it is secured and accessed. Also, while it makes commercial sense in the long run, each force needs to factor in dual running and migration costs. This is where a robust central approach and framework support will be beneficial – as the Government Digital Services has done for central government.
Once the strategy is set, forces need to think about how cloud can help them to deliver services differently, including:
The move to cloud is achievable if managed correctly, but without proper planning and resourcing the move risks being delayed or, worse, compromising access to data. Central to delivery will be a clear transition plan and roadmap – with clarity on how this change interacts with other national and local technology changes. Cloud offers policing the ability to use data as a national asset while allowing forces to exploit it with local tools to focus on specific issues. But that needs policing to come together and:
The conversation can no longer be about if, or even when. Cloud is the future, and that future is coming ever closer. And whatever temptations there may be to slow down, it is the accelerator that is needed when it comes to cloud adoption – not the brake.