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From Police ICT Company to Police Digital Service

25/03/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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New name, new purpose and plans to take on new personnel are all coming to fruition for the UK’s central organisation for digital technology in policing.

Ian Bell

The Police ICT Company is becoming the Police Digital Service (PDS) and taking on a more extensive role, well beyond the original focus on procurement and reflecting its gradual move into supporting forces’ efforts to use digital and data more effectively. This amounts to further steps forward from its reset in January 2019.

The transition has been taking place over recent weeks and a formal launch of the PDS is planned for the beginning of April, with Ian Bell remaining as chief executive officer.

Speaking with UKAuthority, he says the change has been fuelled by the publication of the National Policing Digital Strategy in January of last year, and a growing awareness of the need for an organisation to help police forces deliver against it.

“It began to dawn on me that from a ‘fit for purpose’ perspective, the nature of this organisation, which needs backing from police and crime commissioners (PCCs), police chiefs, technologists, commercial peers and other partners, would need to evolve the company into this national delivery vehicle,” Bell says.

“We began to ask what services we need within the company and what it needs to be called. The ‘Police ICT Company’ didn’t reflect what it needed to do, so there was a need for a brand piece as well.

“One of my frustrations as a CIO at Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire forces was that we did not have a functional centre to do this kind of co-ordination and relationship building with the Home Office and broader partnership chain. It’s about broadening our reach and fundamentally influencing government peers.”

Smarter policing

The mission of the new body is to deliver capabilities for smarter, digitally enhanced policing in which data and technology is used to support decision making and strengthen operations, while producing value for money and better safeguarding the public. This comes from the experience of the Police ICT Company since it was set up in 2015, and discussions with other policing bodies such as the National Police Chiefs Council.

“Stakeholder engagement and delivery have ultimately become royalty in our delivery mechanism,” Bell says. “Last summer we did a bit with PCCs, commercial leads and technology leads to understand what hadn’t worked previously and why it hadn’t worked, and if we were to invest time in this what would make it work.”

The PDS has been funded with £18.9 million from last November’s Spending Review, although it will remain as a members’ organisation taking subscriptions from police forces and make some services available on a commercial basis.

The operating model is being reshaped, with a digital, data and technology portfolio and appointments of chief technology and data officers, a chief information security officer to set up a cyber security team, a delivery directorate, operations team, business engagement team and bringing the National Police Information Risk Management Team from the Home Office.

This all necessitates an increase in headcount for the PDS, and Bell projects the number of people rising from around 20 to 165-170 over the next two years, including the absorption of existing jobs such as those in the national management centre of the National Enabling Programme. He says they will be dispersed around the country and there will be efforts to ensure there is plenty of diversity in the team.

Setting the tone

“We want to be agile, get the best use of our workforce. The past year has set the tone for the way we do that.

“We’ve spent time looking at the organisation from a gender perspective and geographic piece. From a cultural perspective, from the way we’ve learned to work with each other and how our teams have been building, it has set us up into a promised space where we have become a virtual organisation much more quickly than I expected.”

It is yet to assess all of its work priorities. Bell says it is facing “a pathfinder year” with the aim of getting its operating model right, identifying some deliverables and focusing on existing work; but there are some strong ideas.

“We have a few nice pieces of work at the moment, to understand the commercial aggregation opportunities and convergence opportunities, where we set the tone for Adobe, IBM, VMware, and the pipeline is now growing stronger around new initiatives and frameworks. But it needs to be informed by a good engagement product that needs to drop out strategic delivery at the same point.

“What we want is for all the commercial initiatives to be agreed working back into the community rather than us thinking ‘What is the right thing to do?’ Then if we do recognise an opportunity our job is to take it back to the forces and ask if it works.”

Programme transitions

Over the next few months it will take charge of 12 digital transformation programmes currently managed by a separate entity: the National Enabling Programmes, consisting of work on productivity services, identity access management and the national management centre for cyber security; Digital Case File; Frontline Digital Mobility; Video Enabled Policing; the Law Enforcement Capability Model; e-Disclosure; the Government Commercial Framework; Data Exploitation; National Standards; Journey to the Cloud; Security; and the Digital Design Authority.

These will add to its existing range of commercial services.

Bell adds that later in the year there should be scope to begin proof of concept work in areas such as further adoption of cloud, artificial intelligence and robotic process automation.

“There is a wealth of agnostic tech developments coming forward and we will probably be able to come out early summer with some of the stuff we are working on,” he says. “But we don’t want to detract away from core initial objective, which is trust and credibility, deliver well and put this at the heart of our foundation for the future.”

Over the long term the organisation is also likely to act as a national voice for police forces on digital issues in relation to strategy, ethics and any legislation.

Further ambition

Bell reiterates that it is going to be much more ambitious than its predecessor, and that this reflects a need among police forces.

“There is a wealth of folk into incentivising what we need to do and how we need to do it. That’s a refreshing difference. The company was a thing that some people bought into and from a commercial perspective did some very good work, but people always wanted more and it was never resourced to do it.

“Now we have a chance to do more for all the right reasons. Stuff that’s product, coming out of the programmes to turn into business as usual.”

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