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Minerva presses to standardise Niche for police

23/05/16

Programme leader says Police ICT Company aims to offer standardised version of records management system to encourage information sharing

An effort to achieve more standardisation of police records management systems is at a crossroads, according to the official leading the programme.

iStock_PoliceCar_Paula-ConnellyToni Blinston, director of the Minerva programme within the Police ICT Company, told UKAuthority it is working with a number of forces on standardising the Niche system, and aiming to get one it can put forward as a national system.

Niche, supplied by Canadian company Niche Technology, is used by 22 of the UK’s 43 police forces, but exists in 16 variations due to heavy configuration at a local level. There are some sharp differences in features such as pic lists of suspects, naming conventions and the forms used which hinder efforts to share information between forces.

A few forces have standardised the platforms in recent years on a regional basis, notably five in the East Midlands, and two each in Gwent and South Wales and Sussex and Surrey. Three more in the North-West are due to take up a platform soon, and Blinston is working with various forces to develop common standards that could support the trend.

Underpin migration

“The standard will underpin the migration to regional platforms rather than standalone instances of Niche,” she said. “15 years ago when people started to procure Niche they bought what was a COTS product, but then started to configure and develop it locally.

“We would have had 22 forces on 22 platforms, but we now have 22 on 16 platforms, which is progress, but those platforms are still different.”

She added: “We’re starting to look at how these platforms can converge on a single data model, which will then take us to a national version of Niche that can be deployed flexibly. So if you have a national version you can still implement it standalone or regionally.”

Blinston said that when police forces share a platform it provides advantages in areas such as better informed interventions, earlier identification of suspects and offenders, and crime prevention.

But she emphasised that there is no mandate involved, and taking it forward involves cooperation between the Police ICT Company and the individual forces.

At crossroads

“It’s an iterative process,” she said. “We’re not just going to design and model and give it to them. The forces work with us to develop that platform, and we’re at a crossroads at the moment to decide how we take one of the versions we have and take it forward as a national version.”

The fact that five forces are now using the East Midlands platform suggests it could be in a strong position to emerge as the standard, but this is not taken for granted; and Blinston said there will have to be compromise between forces along the way.

Athena, from Northgate Public Services, is the other records management system widely used by UK police forces. Blinston said there is an appetite for standardisation between the two platforms, but that there has to be more standardisation among Niche users before any serious effort can be made.

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