UK: The People Dimension Of Digital: Why Police Forces Need To Get It Right

Last Updated: 24 July 2015
Article by Adam King

Most Read Contributor in UK, August 2017

The founding principles of policing are as true and necessary today as they ever were.  But the realities and pressures of the 21st century call for a new, digital way of operating.  Without a disciplined focus on the people dimension – in terms of roles, capabilities and behaviours – police forces may struggle to realise the benefits of this transformative technology.

Deloitte's recent point of view on digital policing outlined four lenses through which digital technologies could help police forces protect the public and fight crime. According to the report, digital technologies can:

  • Help target crime before it happens, identifying patterns of crime and hotspots through the use of analytics;
  • Bring to life the Peelian principle of the police being the public and the public the police by engaging with citizens differently;
  • Optimise the effectiveness of the workforce by keeping officers out in the field rather than in the office;
  • Introduce digital investigations electronically and provide greater integration of information.

With 83% of CIOs in Deloitte's latest CIO survey reporting that resistance will be a major reason for IT project failure, it will be critical to get the people dimension right if the potential of digital policing is to be realised.

Here's how police forces can get it right:

Invest proportionately in technology adoption

A major risk to benefits delivery is that your force will see the technology adoption element as something to be tagged on to the IT investment. Worse still, it might see it as something optional and able to be cut when budgets get tight.

Time and again we have seen projects spend millions on software development and infrastructure, but struggle to realise benefits because the user community doesn't adapt well to the new technology.  We work on the basis that people need to be able and willing, so just investing in technical training isn't enough – a challenge Deloitte has recently worked to overcome with a large police force.

Focus on "moments of truth"

Getting adoption right means focusing on the moments of truth: when police officers and staff make a judgement on whether this system will work for them or be another badly thought out central initiative with no practical purpose (as they might see it). 

Our point of view is that there are some moments in the adoption journey which have a disproportionate impact on your adoption environment.  For instance, what the participants in user acceptance testing sessions say about your force is likely to be trusted and will either help or hinder your adoption efforts thereafter. 

We used "moments of truth" at one police force to identify events in the operational policing day where the culture of the organisation showed up most clearly. By making some small changes, the pilot area was able to report greater focus from patrols and much better use and sharing of intelligence throughout the day.  Getting those few moments right will significantly enhance your chance of success.

Build leadership at all levels (and harness the power of millenials)

A common theme in my work on leadership development is the idea of leadership as an activity for everyone and not just something exercised by the most senior police officers and staff. Digital policing really requires a different way of thinking and interacting with technology. 

This is the case for all four of the opportunities identified in the Digital Policing point of view: proactive policing, public engagement, mobile workforce and digital investigation. The current generation of police recruits have grown up in an increasingly technology/social media dominated environment and are likely to understand and be able to work with it in a much more effective way than those who did not have this experience. 

Recently we were challenging a client to think about whether they actually needed to train all of their users in the functionality of basic handheld devices. In the personal arena, mobile phone/handheld device operators no longer provide hefty instruction manuals, preferring intuitive common navigation standards and the assumption that users will "work it out as they use it". Clearly policing can't afford to take operational or safety risks, but the default assumption of needing to provide traditional "training" on technology may no longer apply.

To be effective in the Digital Policing journey, the traditional hierarchy may have to be turned on its head.  Make sure your police force is enabling people with the right technology skills and attitudes at all levels (especially junior ranks) to lead the Digital Policing agenda in your organisation.

Align your organisation to the digital agenda

Alignment of people processes in your force is important. There is little value in having a great digital strategy and cutting edge technology if the roles, performance measures and the way people are rewarded and promoted encourage other behaviours. 

We have seen organisations approach the digital agenda by creating a "head of digital" or a "digital delivery team".  While these roles and teams can be useful to provide direction and focus, there is a significant risk in doing this.

If digital is seen as something which is only about technology (by hosting it in the CIO/CTO's domain, for instance) then it can be difficult to get the organisation to own it and start thinking differently about what digital really means for it.  A major local authority is encouraging its senior leaders to own the digital agenda by making a "digital experiment" part of their flagship senior leadership development programme. 

Each leader, regardless of where they sit in the organisation, must do something which will take a digital enabler and create some value for the organisation or the residents of the county.  If your force has a specific head of digital, or a defined digital strategy, then at least ask yourself how you and your team fit into that and what part of the digital agenda you own.

Delivering on the promise of digital policing means a number of steps need to be taken, one of them being investing in technology adoption. That will help create the right attitudes and capabilities towards it in the force.

It also means focusing on the moment of truth which will deliver most value to your citizens.  Another important step is building leadership at all levels and particularly listening to those in the organisation who may already be "thinking digital". Finally, delivering on this promise means looking at what you do, not what you say, and aligning the behaviours and processes in the organisation to deliver the digital change.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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