In virtually all countries, policing is facing the same set of challenges; austerity, citizens’ rising expectations and advancing technology. How do you respond to these challenges? In every case, there’s one effective response; a need to evolve core operations, processes and systems, embed innovation and look at new ways of working.
While this prospect is very exciting in some respects, it’s challenging in others. The question at its heart is how policing can adapt to the changing world it finds itself having to operate in. The good news is that we’re starting to see some encouraging moves towards providing the answer.
I’d highlight two recent developments in particular; the Business Change Council within the UK National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and the publication of the UK NPCC’s Policing Vision 2025, which sets out plans for UK policing over the next few years with a strong focus on digital capabilities.
However, alongside the opportunities, there’s no doubt that technology also presents threats. The current rate of technological advances represents a real challenge to pretty much every industry, and policing is no exception. It’s projected that by 2020 there’ll be 50 billion connected devices across the world—that’s six or seven for every human.
In the face of such profound changes, industries like Financial Services and Retail have actively embraced new technologies—trying things out, learning lessons, showing what’s possible with the right approach. Policing, both in the UK and globally, needs to follow suit.
This means realising the potential of technologies like robotic process automation (RPA) to automate repetitive administrative tasks and free up officers for front-line duties; analytics to provide better operational insights and predict where and when crime is likely to happen so that it can possibly be prevented; artificial intelligence (AI) to identify faces, objects and text from video to assist investigations; and online digital channels to give the public access to police services whenever and wherever they need them.
Day-to-day I’m seeing more and more UK police forces starting to get to grips with new technologies and the opportunities they present. However, implementing these technologies successfully requires an in-depth understanding of the business issues you’re trying to resolve through the change. And here’s where the biggest challenge arises.
Why? Because UK policing’s core competency is preventing, detecting and dealing with crime and protecting the citizens they serve. They’re very good at that—in fact the best in the world. And like other industries from airlines to oil & gas to entertainment to central government, face the same issue; organisations that are great at one thing are not necessarily good at changing how they operate and modernising the core of their own business. So, what do these organisations do? They tap into a rich ecosystem and partner with others.
This approach will work for the police too. That’s why it’s vital that UK policing organisations both collaborate with each other regionally and nationally, and also engage with partners from the supplier communities, academia and the third sector, to deliver the transformation that’s needed—which is a key part of the 2025 Vision.
Alongside partnering, another element will be critical to success of this transformation: putting the individual first rather than the technology. This ‘radically human’ approach means thinking through how people are really going to use the new technology tools and designing them around the user, so human and machine can work in collaboration, with each augmenting the capabilities of the other. An extension of this is viewing behavioural change as a vital enabler of the roll-out and adoption of any new technology solution.
Armed with insights like these, police forces across the UK are starting the move to policing in—and fit for—a post digital world. Examples include West Midlands Police (WMP), whom we’ve helped to implement a public-facing online portal that’s transforming their citizens’ experience of interacting with them.
For policing in the UK and beyond, the transformation journey has begun. As police forces look to improve their efficiency and effectiveness while staying ahead of the public’s rising expectations, technology will be key. So will some very human elements—like a readiness to collaborate and a commitment to putting people at the centre of change.
But the reality is that policing effectively in a digital world will require digital technologies. And now’s the time to embrace them.