The public sector is typically known as something of a laggard, often waiting years or even decades to implement new ideas or technologies after it has first been embraced by the private sector. Attitudes are often more conservative, and budgets are usually limited. Yet things are changing, especially within UK policing.
The sector realized several years ago that the future of policing would be digital. It’s about using everyday technology to help police work better together – speeding and simplifying the work they need to do while keeping it secure and efficient. That’s why the National Enabling Programme (NEP) was created, designed to introduce a secure platform and national standards that enable new ways of working and collaborating for the 43 police forces that make up policing across England and Wales.
“This is the first time I’ve ever known policing own a national programme. It’s from policing, for policing. It is actually at the heart of everything that police want to do. It’s all about the connectivity. That is a massive cultural change for policing.”Owen White, NEP Chief of Staff for National Enabling Programmes
From smartphones and tablets to Microsoft Teams and NetMotion, the NEP’s role is to make policing better by establishing the best ways to adopt new technologies. The entirely optional scheme also allows for different police forces across the country to implement the solutions that make the most sense for them, rather than be forced to adopt technologies that they may not be ready for. It’s a philosophy that Alex Bowen, the Deputy Director for Delivery for the NEP, describes as ‘designed centrally, delivered locally.’
Better collaboration, better policing
Andy Cunnah is a Technical Architect in the NEP Design Team. Figuring out the best ways to use technology that actually assists the officers in the field is a crucial part of his role, helping frontline personnel get on with the tasks that matter – the actual job of policing for each respective community. For Andy, a big part of the task is to ensure that information gets shared differently. Opting for cloud collaboration tools rather than legacy communication channels improves how police forces are able to conduct their work, such as with missing persons, distributing daily briefings, and task assignment. Work is completed much more seamlessly as a result, meaning officers can now take notes on a mobile device instead of the traditional pen and paper.
“The days of police officers coming into work, putting their more advanced technology in their locker, and taking out the less advanced technology to go out on duty, those days are gone.”Alex Bowen, Deputy Director for Delivery for the National Enabling Programmes
Digitally transformed policing
A core part of what the NEP offers is a way for forces to cut through the vendor selection process and focus on the technologies that matter. The programme benefits from collective bargaining and competitive pricing, but also provides the advantage of allowing different counties to collaborate using software designed with inter-operability in mind. This encourages cooperation between forces and reduces the need for inefficient in-person meetings or trips to police stations. Cumbria Constabulary in the North of England is among those that are adopting many of the NEP technologies and best practices.
“The time we’ve freed up through efficient use of technology has allowed officers to be more proactive in their communities as well. It’s keeping people safer and bringing more offenders to justice.”Dave MacDonald – Police Sergeant Copeland District, Cumbria Constabulary
Secure, reliable connectivity
Underpinning a large part of the NEP is connectivity. While cloud-centric, mobile-first software is hugely beneficial to the effectiveness of policing across the country, it all depends heavily upon the performance of the underlying network. That might entail fixed WiFi hotspots in some instances, but is most likely to be the LTE and 5G cellular networks provided by operators.
In practice, officers switch networks hundreds of times a day, dropping connections altogether as they enter areas of congested or weak coverage. That’s why the NEP has implemented NetMotion as one of its recommended technologies to police forces nationwide. As well as meeting security requirements around zero trust and secure access, the optimized connectivity it provides helps make networks more resilient. The powerful diagnostics and self-healing functionality enables frontline officers to focus on policing without having to worry about staying connected or reauthenticating to services multiple times a day – no more disconnects or interrupted sessions. The technology is just as it should be: invisible.
“We have a duty to the public to stay at that cutting edge. If we don’t, we’ll lose that faith and trust from the public. The remote expert can provide advice and guidance and tactics to the incident commander who could be 100 miles away. When you think about it, there’s no limit.”Alex Bowen, Deputy Director for Delivery for the National Enabling Programmes
The NEP is a rare but emerging example of the public sector well and truly leading from the front. Using technologies like NetMotion, it is radically improving the efficiency and effectiveness of policing across the UK. Public safety organizations globally should look to the movements in the UK as a stellar case study in improving public services through digital transformation.