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Cheshire’s IT team: “There isn't any more we need to buy”

Police Oracle visited Cheshire HQ to see how it is getting the IT systems it has already bought to work harder for its work force

Technology is constantly evolving and within policing it's easy to continually chase after the next new 'shiny thing.'

Cheshire Police, however, is working on shifting that mindset and looking to maximise the tools and relationships they already have before signing any new contracts. 

They will not be the first to spot that the standard IT tool set used by most forces  - including RMS and evidence management products  - has functionality that overlaps quite a lot. So why not have a close look at that inventory before being persuaded by a company to procure something new to perform a specific function?

ACC Matt Welsted told Police Oracle: “We've got a command-and-control system, we've got a record management system, we've got a digital evidence management system - we've got the key product set. Our challenge now is how we leverage it, and which product is best for what purpose.

“You can do the same thing using different products. Everything now has got an overlapping element with other product sets. 

“What we don't want is multiple ways of doing things - which feeds into the user experience; we need to try and keep this as simple as possible for our staff.” 

The Head of IT and Security, Stuart Rogers, explained that the department benefits from a certain level of trust from officers and from the force. 

It means the team will be approached with a problem and asked for a solution, rather than being told they need to go and buy such and such a kit. 

ACC Welsted said: “We refuse to accept a ‘I want that product’ because we know that we [probably] already have a version of that product.” 

It's about recognising what benefits that desired product could bring, and seeing if those same benefits could be obtained via something the force already has. 

Mr Rogers added: “The problem with policing particularly, because we’re doing it 43 times, is that people go all over the country and come back saying ‘I've seen this at another force we need to buy it’ - you end up with this fragmented ecosystem, which is an absolute nightmare.” 

It also feeds in to maximising the use of the budget – which for a small force and in the current financial context is increasingly important.

The mentality is also relevant to relationships with suppliers. 

ACC Welsted said: “Once we’ve got that contract in place, I’m asking – what else can we do together? I don’t want to pay any more money, I’m not signing another contract but what do they need that I can help with and what do I need that they can help with?”

He gave the examples of shared communications, development of new products that suppliers want to be able to sell elsewhere, right through to sending the force’s estates team to look round the supplier’s HQ for potential ideas for any renovation projects. 

Cheshire’s IT team is around 100 strong and form a single central team. Field technicians however go out to Local Policing Units daily and also have a presence on site. 

The force’s project team also sits in IT – it means that rather than requesting work packages or resources from them – they are able to work more collaboratively. 

A centralised team also allows for more control over IT projects and developments. It's the reason Cheshire has not unlocked every bit of functionality within Microsoft 365.  

ACC Welsted said: “There's no value to me in somebody creating a new database over here to do something. Actually, that causes me a lot of organisational risk, succession planning, lots of data protection challenges, and then that organisational knowledge and memory becomes an issue when people move on [and the rest of the team doesn’t necessarily understand how to use the new tool].” 

It’s not about stifling innovation, he said, but narrowing down what new functionality you want and identifying what value that would add.  

Cheshire do integrate operational knowledge within the IT team and each project has an operational lead (a Superintendent of Chief Inspector for example) who has responsibility for it. 

The operational lead is aligned to a project manager who converts the ‘need’ into a delivery plan. 

The force at times also make use of a ‘superuser’ process, whereby certain users of products or software are given extra training and insight. When initiatives are rolled out, other officers can approach their colleagues for help and support rather than needing to go to the IT department. 

It’s a process that, however, is “swings and roundabouts”, with success in some cases but which also causes different reactions for reasons including the added tasks on top of an officer’s day job as well as difficulties if it’s a particularly technical product. 

The IT team has taken the principle of actual users championing products and now use case studies within their internal comms. It means officers can see how others have used and benefitted from something and creates a culture of “giving things a go”. 

Meanwhile the project team also go out with officers when designing new IT kit.

IT development manager Emma Mathia said: “It’s all well and good saying ‘press that button and that will do this’ […] but unless you’re doing these things with them and know why they’re doing that interaction – I don’t think you can design anything competently that they are really going to use.”

She gave the example of the development of their electronic pocket notebook. Cheshire had stuck with paper notebooks for longer than some other forces.

However, when ACC Welsted asked the project team to develop an electronic alternative for security reasons, Ms Mathia wanted to get as much operational input as she could, given that officers were so used to paper. 

She said: “[Now, with our electronic notebook], we do things like pre-fill in their shift details. We've also got a little tagged section in, because often I found that one of the officers wrote a little star next to some of the entries in his paper notebook. I asked what he was doing that for he said 'oh when I go back, i know I've got some intel from that.'

“Also, when you create an entry and you put one of the incident numbers in it automatically writes it back to the source system.”

Moving forward, Cheshire’s future projects will revolve around automation, moving to mobile technology and keeping things up-to-date. 

It’s no longer about the big and shiny  - the focus is on "smaller wins."

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