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The Police Industry Charter: One Month On

Principle One recently signed up to the Police Industry Charter, a charter between policing and the tech industry which makes a commitment on both sides to a set of principles in the design and delivery of products and services into the policing market. The Charter has been universally welcomed across the industry and since its launch in March, we have been reflecting on what we can do to begin to fulfil the commitments made under it.

The federated nature of policing systems drives extensive engagement with private industry, from small companies who may only work with a small number of forces to more strategic relationships with global players. This leads to a myriad of different engagements, sometimes duplicating effort in multiple places and makes it hard to engage at scale. The intention of the Charter is to bring policing and industry closer together in a more strategic partnership to drive design and delivery of products and services at pace and in a way that offers best value against policing’s considerable funding constraints. Placing trust at the centre of the partnership will create more open dialogue around evolving challenges and opportunities and enable leaders on both sides to share their skills and experience. However, for the team at Principle One, it’s the focus on interoperability and transparency that should ultimately lead to better outcomes for both policing and industry and a continuously improving, cost-effective service to the public.

We are excited by the collective statement of intent that the Police Industry Charter makes around interoperability, which we have long endorsed – “Designing our products, services and systems on the principle of Interoperability First”, with the promise to design with open architecture as the default. Whilst the definition of open architecture can vary (and the Charter promises that UK policing will define this clearly for consistency), essentially it is about designing, building and maintaining an ecosystem which can seamlessly exchange information with other systems, products and services, and where components can be interchanged with relative ease. Ultimately it is about avoiding proprietary solutions, adhering to recognised standards and promoting design transparency to promote future integration.

So why is improving interoperability of such great benefit to policing in particular? A lack of interoperability across forces and between local, regional and national levels has both impacted the ability to rapidly access data where it’s needed most and created a cottage industry around inputting and managing data across multiple, siloed systems. Addressing interoperability is therefore the first step to reducing the overall complexity of policing’s IT estate, which is currently a web of point-to-point systems, and driving down long-term sustainment costs. If new initiatives focus on designing in interoperability from the outset, a modular approach can be adopted, reducing cost and accelerating delivery. Adopting open architecture principles also facilitates the use of suppliers from outside the current market, providing more opportunities for innovation and competition and avoiding starting again from first principles when often the problem has already been solved elsewhere.

Despite the clear benefits, making this a reality requires a shift in mindset in terms of how projects and programmes are commissioned, funded and delivered. The Charter recognises this in its commitment that “We (UK Policing) will design our requirements to support development of products, services and systems with open architecture as the default. We (UK Policing) will be transparent in building open architecture into procurement processes for products, services and systems” [1]. To deliver on this promise, policing will need to act as an intelligent client and consider the vision and long-term strategy for any piece of work at the commissioning stage: how does a new system need to be able to interact with both legacy and future systems? What functionality needs to be built into it to support this? Do changes need to be made to existing systems in order to support this interaction?

A key question is who will take on the responsibility for driving open architecture within policing? In the Home Office we see DDaT (Digital, Data and Technology) promoting these values, for example stating within their strategy “We will focus on developing software with certain characteristics, such as modularity and loose coupling, which support flexibility and adaptability. We will develop in the open so teams with new use cases can find our shared code and components and explore ways of using it”[2]. As well as providing overarching guidance, this supports individual projects and programmes that are seeking funding to build systems based on open architecture principles. Individual police forces will require similar support to make the shift towards open architecture, and to adhere to the discipline of ensuring that individual projects and programmes actively adopt open principles.

It’s no quick fix, however, and there needs to be a recognition that designing and implementing an open architecture requires additional effort on top of simply adding a new bolt-on. Making a system ‘open by design’ is inherently more complex and expensive than simply building a standalone, tactical solution. Given pressure to reduce costs, the features which enable open architecture are often the first ones to be cut from scope as they aren’t seen as contributing immediate, functional benefit to the end user. Committing to open architecture also means evaluating it as part of the procurement process, and ensuring that the ‘cheapest compliant’ bid also supports policing on its journey to open architecture.

With those considerations, it’s easy to see how tempting it could be to not adopt open architecture principles ‘this time’ when considering the complexity and cost of a new project, creating a vicious cost-saving circle of tactical solutions that exacerbate the problem. While saving money in the short term, this simply defers the expense of building in interoperability further down the line. In a technological landscape as complex and varied as that of UK policing, it can be hard to see where to start, and this is where the Police Industry Charter’s commitment to supporting the development of open architecture will be critical in terms of how new projects get positioned and funded within the existing ecosystem. So how do we get started? We’ve identified key points throughout the delivery lifecycle where we work to build in interoperability principles.

Being ‘open by default’ doesn’t just require a shift in mindset around mobilsing new projects, but also in terms of how the interoperability is managed on an ongoing basis. For example, standards (e.g. for data formats) need to be defined, applied and will most likely evolve, requiring ongoing monitoring and a commitment to ensure that changes over time are implemented in all relevant systems. Where systems interface with one another this creates dependencies, for example an API or data feed needs to be reliable enough for downstream systems to consume, and this will need to be supported and maintained. Interoperability should be treated as part of an enabling service to ensure that no ‘single points of failure’ develop which could have a ripple effect across the whole ecosystem, and it cannot simply be managed within a single project or programme.


Wherever possible across our client work, we promote the benefits of open architecture and interoperability. Dr Robin Sanderson, Senior Systems Engineer at Principle One, has twenty years’ experience in interoperability in the secure government sector, including contributions to national and international data standards. He sits on Tech UK's Interoperability in Policing Working Group and says: “The Tech UK IPWG shows that there is a strong and coordinated voice from many within industry in support of greater interoperability. The Police Industry Charter is a reassuring statement of intent which will hopefully build greater momentum across the wider community. However, there remains significant work to do in terms of putting this into practice and supporting police forces in implementing the spirit of the Charter, in particular when it comes to making the hard investment decisions needed to reap the longer-term rewards.”

At Principle One we fully support the ambition to move the policing technology landscape towards interoperability and a more open architecture, and we are delighted to see that this is a priority in the Police Industry Charter. Whilst it will require more planning, effort and funding to begin with, we firmly believe that acting on these commitments could transform technology for UK policing in the long run, making it easier to share vital data, reducing manual effort, and enabling more innovation from a larger pool of suppliers. The Charter also places collaboration and partnership at the centre of the ways of working it seeks to establish and we welcome that opportunity to be part of the journey.



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