Avoiding the pitfalls of police procurement

by Steve Norris, managing partner and O2 public sector champion: criminal justice and emergency services

A few weeks ago I attended the Police ICT Company Suppliers’ Conference. It was impressive to see how police services are looking to use mobile communications technology across their frontline and back office processes.

But what really became clear was the need for impartial advice. Get things right, and ICT is a powerful tool when it comes to keeping the country safe, but the wrong decision leads to a serious hit on stretched budgets, reputation and efficiency.

According to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor, around £600m is spent every year by police services in England and Wales on ICT. Which is why helping the Police ICT Company and police services make the right decisions is paramount.

During the last budget the police escaped predicted large cuts of 10% or more, and saw a £1bn overhaul of the emergency services network announced – including investment in mobile communications. A lot of decisions now need to be made: how will the cloud be used, what levels of interoperability are required, do you want to use open systems?

Helping law enforcement agencies navigate issues like this successfully is one of my main roles as an O2 public sector champion. And part of that calls for giving guidance that’s objective and subjective (and making it clear which is which).

At the event, Sussex Chief Constable Giles York made an interesting point with regard to ICT spend – which illustrates the point of having access to objective guidance perfectly. Sussex Police were looking at an off-the-shelf solution, which was a cost-effective decision. However, he then discovered that his team had asked for 120 changes to be made. This level of customisation made the product far more tailored to his service’s needs, but moved it away from the original intent to purchase something off-the-shelf.

It’s why I think there’s a real need for a proxy or intermediary between each police service and the Police ICT Company, when it comes to scoping and finalising technology solutions.

They can help advise on the pitfalls, benefits and cost implications of likely choices. And would also be in the position to highlight similar procurement requests from other organisations, and look at how these might be tied together to support a greater sharing of services and costs. Records management systems, command and control platforms or ERP networks are long-term commitments. And when making this type of undertaking, it makes sense to seek impartial advice to ensure any potential problems are identified early – as it’s always costly to re-engineer something once work has commenced.

And the need to get ICT decisions right at the point of entry is even more pronounced when you consider the increasing moves towards inter-service collaboration.

Sara Thornton of the National Police Chiefs’ Council touched on this when she shared her Vision 2020. Sara described a landscape where policing is aligned to other local services, producing more effective demand management, improved safeguarding and reduced victimisation. To do that, we’re looking at a single solution that would need to integrate with the local systems used by police, fire, GPs and the NHS.

I’m confident that ICT partners can play a positive role in helping police services unlock the efficiency and cost benefits of technology, and am looking forward to engaging with Martin Wyke and Robert Leach of the Police ICT Company in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I’m always happy to talk about how police procurement can be simplified, and can be contacted directly on 07802 280287.