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A Force for police ICT change

David Bicknell Published 26 July 2012

A Force for police ICT change

How thinking behind the new police ICT company is developing

The last few weeks have seen a number of developments in police ICT including an ongoing debate over the role and reputation of G4S in police outsourcing, and the implications for forces of the decisions of police and crime commissioners.

The tri-constabulary police forces of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire this week bought themselves time over their plans to use a possible contract with Lincolnshire/G4S to provide outsourced organisational support services to help deliver operational savings, and whether the contract would meet their local needs.

Now, following its launch last week, details have also begun to emerge about how the new police IT company - variously dubbed 'Pictco' or 'NewCo' - will work in achieving its goal of saving money, providing better IT, and freeing up chief constables from involvement in procurement,.

The police IT company will eventually be owned by the police and crime commissioners (PCCs) once they are elected in November.

One of the original intentions had been for police authorities themselves to take on ownership of the IT company. However, the authorities themselves have generally been reluctant to do anything that might bind their successors, the PCCs, leading to some fears that there might be a chance of failure with interim owners.

A number of possibilities have been discussed, including having the home secretary as owner. An alternative solution was to take a twin-track approach that would see the creation of two new organisations: the Police ICT Co Ltd, which would be owned 50/50 by the Association of Police Authorities (APA) and the Home Office, and a new police IT directorate in the Home Office.

Ultimately, the Home Office is unlikely to want to be the owner in the long term, and the aim is that the police will take the lead. The police authorities themselves will be phased out in November as the PCCs come in.

Directors have now been appointed, 12 in total, including representation from the Metropolitan Police, police chiefs and the APA. It is likely that some of the directors will also make the transition to the post-PCC board, and the directorate is likely to grow, taking on new staff, including some from the current soon to be abolished National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA).

A recent document issued by the Home Office Police ICT Company programme team provides an overview of the design proposal for a new police IT company and the rationale for change.

The document is understood to argue that police officers at every level should be able to spend their time in activities directly related to fighting crime, with chief constables not having to worry about where and how to get the best deal for a new operational system or service for their force. Budget should not have to be spent on maintaining large IT departments in forces, it is believed to say.

Currently, with many police IT systems, services and procurements being managed by individual forces, chief constables all spend time and resources on coming up with technology solutions to meet their local needs, rather than simply being able to identify a problem and let experts deliver the solution.

It is believed the fragmentation of the police market means that suppliers' bidding costs are high in relation to potential profits, which in turn keeps other suppliers away from the police market. If the demand could be aggregated, however, it could attract companies that would be able to provide better prices because of a lower sales cost per customer.

In general, the police believe that they currently fail to exploit the full potential of economies of scale that should come when the 43 forces are spending £1.2bn a year on IT (according to 2010 figures). Police forces employ approximately 5,000 IT staff, operate more than 2,000 separate IT systems and maintain about 100 data centres.

Deals, often with the same suppliers, are signed in different forces and changing this way of doing business could bring real, tangible benefits for forces, for example:

The police service currently spends £106m per annum with a single telecommunications provider. Pitco should help forces consolidate large scale payments of this kind; with just a 2% saving on this equating to £2m per annum. Other potential opportunities of this nature include finance and HR system licences across forces.

Across all forces, there are more than 300 separate software licences with a single software supplier. Pitco would seek to consolidate these and use government spending power to get better deals for forces.

One single supplier currently delivers an application to about 30 forces, all in separate purchase, implementation and maintenance deals. All these could be consolidated.

Currently, a single systems integrator treats each force as a completely separate customer and prices accordingly, even though the supplier is one of largest complex IT provider to government and police think they should be getting better terms.

The police believe they are not getting the best deals, nor the best service, from the IT industry because they are not the strong customer in the marketplace that their £1.2bn of spend should make them. The solution to this problem is not a central government agency that tells police what to do and how to do it, but should be one which is responsive to local operational needs, with the ability to offer forces a route to better services and better deals.

The new company would be completely focused on identifying, procuring, implementing and managing the right IT solutions to meet the needs of forces in the most efficient and effective way possible.

In short, its principal objectives would be to deliver better value to forces for their IT spend; greater innovation in police technology, so that operational officers have better systems; freedom for chief constables to focus on strategic ICT choices rather than managing ICT; and services and products that support forces and other customers in their drive for interoperability.

In terms of what the new company will look like and how it will operate, its design will be based on four fundamental principles. Firstly, it should be owned and controlled by PCCs - when they take office- and, secondly, have with a clear mission to meet the operational needs of chief constables.

Thirdly, it should be staffed by skilled ICT professionals and have a culture that allows it to attract and retain individuals with the skills and capabilities needed and that encourages those individuals to innovate and deliver success.

Lastly, it should exploit the purchasing power of the police service as a whole by aggregating the requirements of as many forces as possible.

The next few weeks are likely to bring further details of what Pitco will look like, and how it will operate. It is interesting that the way the company will operate is not yet set in stone, with further input encouraged from the company's potential users.

For the next three months, a lot of work is likely to be done by those charged with delivering police ICT and those helping them with their inquiries.

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