This article was first published in Police Professional
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:
- Mitigating the risk of forces being overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of modern policing data;
- Taking opportunities from the ‘Internet of Things’ and combining data from multiple sources, such as body-worn video, CCTV, smartphones, etc;
- Maximising value from native police data and exploiting large, public data sets for predictions and forecasting;
- Realising the long-promised benefits from automating workloads – removing human capacity as the limiter of speed and accuracy; and
- Responding rapidly to the emerging needs of the public, officers and staff with little/no upfront cost – cloud services will enable force IT departments to work far more closely with the operational business to respond and scale solutions quickly to meet their needs.
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:
- Meeting the data challenge requires a technical solution, which can let systems and tools do the ‘heavy lifting’ to prevent data overload;
- Removing data silos – cross-force data sharing has previously relied on complex collaborations on shared systems. Cloud offers the opportunity to scale to previously unseen levels across policing and the wider criminal justice system without complex new platforms;
- Future-proofing police IT infrastructure and skills – ensuring that policing can access the necessary skills to maintain its services; and
- The market is ready – in terms of infrastructure and applications. Major players are already engaging forces and policing, as a collective market is attractive.
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:
- Data led – moving data out of legacy applications into the cloud to enable better insights and combinations of data (both internal and external sources).
- Business unit led – moving existing applications (and data) based on business priorities – defining new and innovative policing use cases to identify the data that moves when.
- Investment led – identifying where systems need to be refreshed/replaced/purchased and taking that opportunity to redirect that investment into the cloud.
- Platform consolidation led – focusing on the hosting environment and moving everything on that platform into the cloud – often aligned to data centre refresh considerations.
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:
- Building on shared data to structure the business differently and work more closely with other forces and partners – including where capabilities reside and which skills are needed;
- How to align technical and business capabilities to provide solutions to operational issues with greater agility;
- Identifying the skills needed – both for specialists and mainstream resources. Where will policing’s Centre of Excellence be, how will it source the training and change management needed? and
- Ensuring data security is addresses by engaging with InfoSec, data protection and records management leads.
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:
- Understand and balance national drive and direction with local needs and capacity;
- Explore the potential for collaborations to pilot initiatives and share resources; and
- Create the necessary national governance, standards and sharing of experiences.
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.