The will of the people

Ian Blackhurst examines why the success of any technology transformation lies with some very human elements.

Oct 11, 2017

The speed, breadth, and depth of change within the criminal justice system, coupled with the attendant pressure on budgets and resources, have made new technology a key investment focus for many police forces. Installing new IT can be a game-changer, moving forces towards the ‘doing more with less’ ideal – overturning old processes, improving data quality, facilitating intelligence sharing, and helping officers and staff be more agile. If true transformation is to be achieved, however, understanding the impact of technology on people should be treated as equally as important as choosing the technology itself. Forces take great care in choosing the right technology. But what I am talking about here is taking full consideration of what human attitudes and processes need to change for technology to deliver fully on its promises. And that is not limited simply to the workstreams where the technology is implemented either, but across the entire force. To avoid a large disconnect between officers and new IT, there needs to be a coherent approach right from the beginning of the project, encompassing people, process and technology, all combining to deliver a set of business outcomes by operating in an entirely new way after implementation. The defining factor is not acquisition, it is ownership. For example, imagine a police force; let us call it ‘Northshire’. It has invested in a new electronic system to streamline processes in custody case management, and to allow for one core system for recording information. Since being installed, improvements have been noted and information is generally easier to locate. Cases are going to the Crown Prosecution Service with all the relevant information and where previously there were multiple, inconsistent records for a John Smith, now there is only one. However, on a busy Friday night in Northshire, a police officer books in a John Smith, whose details do not tally 100 per cent with the information for the possible nominals on the database. For speed and expediency, and following custom and practice embedded for years, the police officer does exactly what they did before, and creates a new record because it feels easier than checking for an existing one. By doing this, they incorporate the same problems from the old system back into the new technology. Meanwhile, across the country in ‘Southshire’, the force has installed the same technology but taken a different approach to the human involvement. Like Northshire, it took the opportunity to clean its data, but also initiated a comprehensive review of processes and culture and aligned that with technology-specific training to achieve the objective of sustaining one ‘golden nominal’ for each person of interest. It empowered its people in many ways, including enabling officers at the front line to input information directly to its platform with mobile or slate devices, and trusting them to progress things without undue supervision, thereby making connections easier and reducing wasted time and effort. The key point here is, it is the human element that makes the difference – securing the buy-in from officers that they need to stick with this new approach mindful of the need to maintain data integrity and improve outcomes for the public. The team at Southshire wanted to avoid simply replacing old processes and that has meant yet another transformational element could be introduced. With the custody and case management workflows fully electronic, and enabled by mobile technology, quality assurance could be embedded as standard, improving compliance. The Southshire team realised this meant the level of supervision could be adjusted down – so, sign-off of cases could happen lower down the hierarchy, freeing-up people and resources and speeding up case management and improving conviction rates. Back in Northshire, similar technology had not had the dramatic impact anticipated, and the decision-making process has continued much as before, with officers inputting information in mobile, and then returning to t

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