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Leveraging cloud in digital policing

Naomi Bolton, Account Manager for Blue Light Services at Cloud Gateway explores the interconnections between police forces and how they can navigate a successful path to the cloud in order to achieve benefits for policing.

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First published April 2024 in Police Professional Magazine

The Policing landscape

Phones, computers and electronic devices are a huge source of information for police investigations. It’s estimated that more than 90% of reported crime now has a digital element, and with a prevalence of body-worn video – ANPR cameras, CCTV, drone footage, internet connected devices, social media and mobile phones. This explosion of data capture is only set to rise. As a former Chief Inspector in the East Midlands, I know first-hand how the demands on our service and the pace of technological change is forcing the police to think about how they can best arm officers and staff with the knowledge, skills and tools they need to move forward.

Of course, there are challenges. The need to share data securely poses a significant obstacle when it comes to delivering more joined-up services to citizens. This isn’t helped by the complexity of the police structure in England and Wales. Each of the 43 police forces operate in a different way, with their own procurement and technology divisions against a backdrop of local priorities. This individualised approach, coupled with outdated IT, often means more effort is required to share intelligence across force borders when joint operations involving multiple police forces take place.

Same puzzle, different pieces

Policing is at a critical juncture. Forces understandably want to harness digital opportunities in the most efficient, effective and secure way possible. But if you look at the national picture, they are all attempting to piece together the same puzzle, separately.

Cloud is the largest piece to grapple with and under the direction of the 2013 Cloud First policy, many forces are looking to prioritise the use of cloud when considering new IT solutions. Arguably, one of the biggest tech rollouts we’ve seen is the introduction of Microsoft's 365 Productivity Services suite, which was implemented as part of the National Enabling Programme. The technology has had a notable positive impact, giving police officers and staff the ability to come together, wherever their location. But elsewhere the picture is varied, with each force on its own cloud connectivity journey to build the appropriate foundations that are needed.

A cultural barrier to adoption

The benefits that cloud brings in terms of accessibility, increased speed of deployment and rapid scalability are well-known. But with each force forging its own path, there is a risk aversion to doing things differently and an element of ‘we’ll wait and watch what everyone else does first, before we decide’. In some forces, there will also be differences in attitudes towards technological change. For those on the operational side, their requirements will lean more towards getting stuff done. While IT teams will be more focused on improving how things work. Attitudes will understandably vary. 

In the past, when forces looked to introduce new applications, the IT departments would assess how to deploy them using their own internal architecture. This approach had been successful over the years, as the focus was on delivering applications to the force's own officers and staff only. However, with the workforce becoming increasingly agile and the demand for collaboration with other agencies rising, there is a need to shift this strategy. Now the question needs to be, 'How can we deploy this so it’s easy to access from anywhere and allows seamless information sharing with others, when necessary?'

The role of cloud connectivity

While networking might not be the most colourful topic of conversation, its foundations are essential for harnessing digital and data to drive better outcomes for the public.

With operational officers spending much of their time out working with the public or at the police station, they need a secure means to access and retrieve information and data, on any device. Approaches to cloud connectivity like Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) provide a robust and secure framework for remote access. Introduced at a pace that suits your force and without causing disruption to live operations or services, SASE ensures that information is created, accessed, and transmitted in a secure and trusted manner. Officers can access information from anywhere, giving them increased operational agility and allowing for more effective responses to dynamic situations.

Securing information in this way not only enables police forces to operate more flexibly while on the move, but also fosters trust when efficiently sharing information across policing teams, with other law enforcement entities, or external agencies like social services.

Trust in information sharing

While police forces must approach cloud adoption with careful consideration, because of the nature of their operations and importance of data security, it’s important to give weight to secure data handling and seamless connectivity. Not only will this ensure that officers can access critical information from anywhere without compromising security, but it also supports flexible work arrangements that foster trust in information sharing between forces and external agencies. By embracing cloud connectivity solutions like SASE, the police can strike a balance between harnessing the benefits of cloud technology, upholding security requirements and having access to information that can help them better serve the needs of the public.