As police forces face the challenge laid out by central government to achieve savings, there is a greater focus on the way that collaboration could take centre stage. Partnerships with the private sector in delivering non-core functions could help to protect the ‘front line’.
The Policing Minister, Nick Herbert, expressed strong views on collaboration in a speech to the City Forum in January and set out his desire to see greater private sector involvement (see PP241, pp18-21).
The current financial climate requires a very different approach to management than anything seen before. Senior officers and employees are expected to do ‘more with less’ and there is a growing recognition that the private sector can support forces in improving efficiency and making the most of their budgets to better deliver the police service the public needs.
John Gibson is a former public servant who, for the last 15 years, has led major technology companies in developing IT systems for both private and public sector. Since 2008, he has been the chief executive of Sungard Public Sector, which was acquired by the Capita Group in December and is now Capita Secure Information Systems (CSIS).
Current CSIS customers are almost 100 per cent public sector or partner organisations that service the public sector. Mr Gibson has knowledge of both public and private sectors gained from hands-on experience and can say that they display quite different characteristics as customers. He expects those differences to narrow as the public sector deals with reduced funding and learns to downsize while simultaneously improving productivity.
The public sector will provide a specification and a timetable which it expects to be followed, while the private sector procures faster but with significantly less predictability. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach.
“When you deal with individual companies you get a much more individual requirement – not necessarily more complex or bespoke, but simply one that reflects their own business needs. If you go to three police forces or local authorities, there’ll be local differences but you know they’ll have the same underlying requirement,” he explained.Impact of CSR
The question as to whether the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) is a threat or an opportunity is often asked of the CSIS chief executive, especially as over half of CSIS business comes from UK police forces which are now being encouraged to reduce their spending.
“The stock answer is that it can be both – but, in reality, it presents an opportunity for public servants and politicians to think differently,” said Mr Gibson.
“A transformational approach is more common in the private sector where it is unlikely that businesses will simply reduce each budget line by x per cent. It is important to remind ourselves of what it is that customers want. For the police, the public want a reduction in crime, they want to feel safe, they want their family to be safe and at a broader level they’d like to be safe from organised crime and terrorism. If you ask whether it matters to them who manages the finance and HR, their main interest is that the people involved are respected and terms and conditions are maintained.”Transformation
Mr Gibson is aware that the demands placed on policing are totally different to the demands placed on the private sector, but suggests that the argument that policing’s critical functions prevent radical solutions is a misconception.
CSIS is constantly evolving its business while maintaining critical systems for its customers. It operates in a dynamic and demanding environment supporting police force control rooms, case and custody systems, local authority child welfare and social care systems, national mobile data systems for the Ambulance Service and ICT services for the Serious Fraud Office and the National Offender Management Service.
For example, a major aspect of the CSIS business is the supply of control room hardware and software.
“In the early days our original technology was based on proprietary platforms which the company designed and built for each specific customer – this took a significant amount of time to specify and implement, adding cost but little flexibility,” explained Mr Gibson.
“Now, the technology is based on ‘commodity’ components and products which are widely available and yet can still be tailored to address individual requirements.
“Control rooms can now be designed to be partitioned and operated by more than one organisation, two police forces, or the fire and rescue service and another organisation”.
The CSIS case, custody, crime and intelligence system UNIFI, has undergone the same transformation. Forces can now collaborate on their own hardware infrastructures while having multiple forces running their own version of UNIFI on a single platform.
“Forces that would like to collaborate on costs can now have a data centre with their own UNIFI app and, when it suits for operational reasons, they can collaborate and communicate across a region or between organisations.
“That’s the sort of thing we’ve been thinking about; how we can make customers lives easier while delivering a high quality service for less. We’re very clear that we must find ways to be cheaper.
“We know we can provide a cost-effective service without impacting on the quality.”Off-the-shelf
Twenty years ago, customers of ICT systems had specific requirements and had to ask manufacturers to create something bespoke with greater computing power. Organisations can now obtain commercial off-the-shelf systems (COTS) which are high performance, resilient and extremely cost-effective.
Within policing, there is often debate as to whether systems should be built internally. As technology becomes more commoditised, there is less need, and forces have reduced resource to devote to the design and maintenance of their own, home grown IT systems.
The jury is still out as to whether it is in the public interest – in terms of time and money – for public bodies to undertake complex systems development in-house where there is always risk.
Like many products we buy, IT systems have been developed in other markets that can form the foundation for progression. The majority of things we buy are identical underneath. The differentiation comes with additional features added for each person and budget.
“An ideal product for customers in this sector is one that provides just what they need. The differentiation between our own and other available products comes from the quality of the service we deliver to customers, the way we attend to their core service, our knowledge of their problems, an understanding of the urgency of getting things done, how we should go about it and the impact on the final customer if it doesn’t get done,” said Mr Gibson.
In the past, a great deal of ‘time-boxing’ with the customer was involved to develop a system’s programming and specification. Now, CSIS prefers to time-box on service; learning what it means to a customer if they can’t answer a call in five rings or if they can’t get a vehicle to an address within ten minutes and what can be done to make sure they can.
“That might mean using key words in contact management, or triaging a call to find a way of accelerating its priority. There are a number of things we can do without designing a completely new bespoke system that might take several years of development, cost millions, and have a greater element of risk.”
By underpinning the service with COTS products and infrastructure, change can be achieved very quickly. More important, is the willingness and the ability of the customers to match the pace of change.Collaboration
As police forces consider the options to cut costs, greater collaboration with local partners, other forces and the private sector has been on the agenda for some time.
Collaboration offers exceptionally good value for money but it could be even better if police forces decide to share infrastructure, or decide they want a product that can be partitioned and switched into an interactive data transferring mode if required.
“There are some great examples of collaboration, such as Kent and Essex, whose approach is to forge ahead with collaboration because it is the right thing to do. Those forces are on their way to improved cost-effective services for customers.
“By sharing, you have the opportunity to secure the Holy Grail – improved service for the customer at a reduced cost. The larger the volume, the better the price.”Taking opportunities
CSIS has seen considerable change since its first radio systems installation over 80 years ago. It has grown its footprint within policing and the emergency services to become a major supplier. Through the development of systems for policing the company has achieved a considerable understanding of the police and justice sector. It is the market leader on secure radio applications, and is constantly looking at ways of operating on shared platforms to assist collaboration.
As part of the Capita Group – a much larger organisation with considerable financial strength, vast experience and resources devoted to business process outsourcing – CSIS is able to provide a capability to outsource, underpinned by excellent technology and skilled employees that meet its customers’ needs to save money and invest in the front line.
“None of SunGard’s previous capability has been lost by the joining of these two organisations,” says Mr Gibson. “In fact, our ability to deliver new services through business process outsourcing and technology will be greatly enhanced.
“CSIS products get the job done while delivering value, but, more importantly, are delivered by people who understand policing, who have a service ethic and can implement transformation quickly.
“We understand that affordability is now the starting point and we like our customers to be demanding; that keeps us on our toes.”
There is no doubt that the coming months will present a challenge, but forcing a change could result in the emergence of more agile police forces that do not feel the burden of resourcing non-policing activity.