It’s hard not to feel frustrated by the police ICT landscape.
There are 43 police forces in England and Wales, each individually buying near-identical technology at a cost of over £1 billion every year.
Much of that is just to maintain out-of-date legacy systems - money that could be much better spend elsewhere during a time of austerity across the public sector.
A CEO was appointed to run the new venture in June: Martin Wyke, a CIO with three decades of experience at TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Debenhams.
Wyke will have to overcome a history of failed attempts to set up a national approach to police ICT.
It is far from a new idea: the company will have many of the same functions as the Police Information Technology Organisation, set up in the 1970s then abolished in 2007, and the National Policing Improvement Agency, wound down in 2012.
However all of these organisations “failed to drive a national approach to policing”, Police ICT Company chairman Nick Alston told ComputerworldUK earlier this year.
Despite this difficult landscape, Wyke is optimistic two months into the new job, his first in the public sector. After a long private sector career, he says he wanted to take a job where he could make a big difference”.
“However, I came into this with my eyes wide open. I recognise there have been some ups and downs and it is a very difficult landscape,” he says.
‘Success breeds success’
Wyke says the five-strong team has already saved police forces over half a million and aim to have saved up to £3 million by the end of the financial year. However he hopes to start making much bigger, recurring savings from next year.
The company has estimated it could save between £150 million and £465 million a year and improve policing by encouraging collaboration, integration between systems and helping forces to drive better deals with suppliers.
However Wyke downplays the importance of these figures, saying he is focused on getting the company to pay for itself for the time being.
“I’d like us to be able to cover our costs this year. But I’m confident by the end of the year we’ll have identified significantly larger savings, which go straight back to the forces,” he says.
“Success breeds success. So I want to start small, under-promise and over-deliver. We won’t promise to change the world. Previous incarnations have failed, but this time it is owned by the police themselves, there’s no mandation, and strong ministerial support from Theresa May,” he adds.
At this early stage Wyke is focusing on meeting police forces across the country, Police and Crime Commissioners, suppliers and Home Office officials.
“The thing I need to be is to be very understanding of what forces’ positions are and what they are trying to achieve. There is no arrogance on mine or the company’s part,” Wyke says.
He is currently hiring people, with a chief operating officer due to be appointed imminently.
Although some will be external appointments, Wyke says he hopes to “tap into the wealth of talent out in the forces today”.
He is also looking for a permanent London home for the company (they are currently sharing an office with The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners in Westminster).
He says his main goal at the moment is to change the way the company is financed. In April the company chairman Alston warned it needed £1.2 million to get fully up and running. Wyke agrees a lack of funding is the biggest risk to the company at the moment.
“All the forces pay into the company on an annual flat fee basis. We’re now looking to take income from other streams, like the Home Office’s Police Innovation Fund, in a way that allows us to equip ourselves to make a bigger difference,” Wyke explains.
The company is imminently due to take charge of 18 national policing systems currently run by the Home Office, for example the Police National Computer and National DNA Database. The team are finishing due diligence on those systems now, according to Wyke.
Another priority this year is to help promote the adoption of modern technologies like geolocation systems, online reporting and data analytics.
Forces need to focus on improving their use of data, move away from having to manually re-enter information twice and start collaborating and sharing data more – both with each other and with other blue light services, Wyke says.
Wyke admits: “Austerity is a big help for us [the company]. Policing is now at a turning point. We absolutely need to change and get better at tech. And austerity is driving that need.”
Although he does not admit it, Wyke must realise he has a huge hill to climb.
He must push police units into working together and improving their technology and process, though he has no legal right to force them to do so, with a tiny team (especially compared to the thousands in police IT and procurement departments).
Crucially, he has to deliver significant savings, not least to justify the company’s existence. And it is all running on a precarious, shoestring budget.
Despite this, Wyke is relentlessly upbeat - and clear on the case for the company and its immediate plans.
“Ultimately I’m accountable to police forces. We have the same aim – to make this country a safer place. If I can help do that, make policing more efficient so we can channel money back into frontline policing and initiatives to transform policing, I’ll have actually made a difference,” he says.