NSW Police is trialling Apple, Microsoft and Blackberry mobile devices as it moves to support a mix of police-owned and BYO devices.
The trials will inform NSW Police's first formal mobility strategy and cover a range of devices. The agency is also developing back-end web services to support mobile interaction.
NSW Police CIO Chris Robson said mobile technology could make officers more effective at their jobs and safer in the field.
“We’d also like to reduce the amount of time [officers] need to spend at end of shift completing data entry back at the station,” he said.
“If officers can conveniently update information as they go about their day it means they can spend more time out with the public.”
NSW Police expects to undergo a further year of trials before developing a full business case and approaching the market for mobile devices.
A full roll-out will likely take the best part of a year. NSW Police is yet to identify when funding for the project will be made available.
To address data security, Robson' team is currently evaluating one solution that puts a secure container on the end-user’s device to isolate and secure NSW Police data.
He said the organisation had been forced to change its thinking on security from automatically locking everything down.
“We had really tight control in some areas, multiple levels of prescribed internet access - we blocked shopping sites, why?” he said in a speech to the Police Technology Forum last week.
"They’re not a security risk. It’s just a culture of lockdown. And in other areas we need to achieve more balance."
With an influx of technologically savvy police officers coming into the force, Robson said everybody had an opinion on which mobile platform was better.
He hoped to avoid risk by taking a platform-agnostic approach.
“Who will win, Microsoft, Google, Apple - everyone’s got an opinion,” he said. “I’ve got very senior people traipsing through the corridor extolling the virtues of Microsoft versus Apple, it’s like 1985 all over again.
“We’re saying if the architecture is work, it won’t be that relevant of a decision. We’re trying to avoid locking a lot of our work. We’re leveraging HTML5 standards and hybrid solutions as much as possible.”
NSW Police will upgrade its ERP system over Easter and is planning to update its Windows 7 desktop SOE later this year.
In the meantime, the organisation is updating its mainframe-based Computerised Operating Policing Systems (COPS), which has been in use for nearly 20 years.
The system is core to the daily life of the force, and is used to log events and custody, gather intelligence, lay charges, issue infringements, record bail decision and apply for protection orders.
Under the first phase of its core policing systems modernisation program, NSW Police delivered a web-based COPS interface with better integration with other systems.
The current phase, due for delivery midway through this year, will provide better search capabilities via relational database technology and a replacement module for its Custody application, using J2E and HTML5 technology.
All of COPS will be migrated to J2E and HTML5 in later phases of the program.
Robson said the Custody upgrade was the test of NSW Police's whole modernisation strategy.
The upgraded application is mobile-capable out of the box and runs on a range of devices. Robson also planned to bring it to Windows tablets using HTML5.
Read on for NSW Police's plan to rationalise legacy systems and a new program that puts IT staff in police cars.
Robson said NSW Police had an opportunity to rationalise its legacy mainframe environment.
“If there’s one thing I know we’ve got to do it’s simplify,” he told the Police Technology Forum.
“We’ve been continuing to do work to take some of the technical complexity out of the backend system. I compare it to an old English car, there’s engineering excellence but somewhat unreliable.
“The core technology lacks the flexibility we require to be as responsive as we want to be in a modern organisation.”
NSW Police has between 180 and 250 applications. Robson said he didn’t know what the ideal number was, but it was “much less than that”.
“From the perspective of a relative newcomer, it appears as if historically, every new requirement has spawned a new package or bespoke application," he told iTnews.
"Where we need to go is leveraging fewer platforms more effectively. That will simplify the landscape for our end users and reduce our total cost of ownership in the long run.
"The challenge that follows on from that is to plan simplification effectively, taking into account where each of our applications is at in its lifecycle.”
Merging the old with the new
Robson joined the state police force in January last year, when a survey of senior stakeholders found that NSW Police had room to improve how it engaged its staff.
One program that has arisen as a result is the Day in the Life program, which takes internal IT staff out of the regular office environment and into the operations of a police station.
Robson told iTnews the program helped IT staff understand their customers, the challenges those customers face on a daily basis and the way technology can influence those challenges.
Day in the Life has been piloted so far with about 20 staff out of a potential 3300.
IT staff are exposed to such activities as firing a simulated Glock pistol, meeting police officers, riding in a police car, and watching how police officers use the technology they’ve been working on.
NSW Police also implemented a Technology Advocates Program, designed to capture ideas on technological innovation and alleviate some frustrations of the new generation of tech-savvy officers.
Robson said new tech-savvy recruits had previously been frustrated when their ideas and complaints about technology were met by 'that’s the way it’s always been' responses from senior police officers.
Joining up with the courts
The NSW Police force has for years “struggled” to get effective data interchange with state courts, Robson said, partly due to each agency pursuing projects separately with minimal inter-agency discussion.
“An early realisation for me was that what we really have are end-to-end processes that thread through multiple agencies. The data-centric approach was generating too many exceptions,” he told iTnews.
“When we reject data that doesn’t fit our systems that might be a construed a success in technical terms but it’s a failure in process terms.”
NSW Police has consequently established one program under a singular directorship covering the Police and Attorney-General’s departments, called Join Up Justice.
“That’s really helping to uncover the fundamental differences in some of our processes that need to be realigned for data exchange to be effective," Robson said.
"The strategic objective is to run our processes in real time and ensure that everybody has access to data which is correct up-to-the-minute.
“Both agencies have built SOA [service-oriented architecture] capabilities and we now have our project team applying more agile methods to development.”