The global pandemic has illustrated that policing does not operate in a vacuum when it comes to delivering public services. Policing Insight’s Publisher Bernard Rix looks at how one supplier worked with UK police forces, the Police ICT Company and the National Police Technology Council to ensure previously office-based work could be rapidly undertaken by police officers and staff in their own homes.
Scarcely a day seems to go by without us hearing of a fresh challenge that has been thrown up by the Coronavirus emergency – and a fresh act of ingenuity and resourcefulness to help overcome it. We have seen examples of whole delivery systems that have been re-thought and redesigned to accommodate the sudden and overwhelming need for social distancing. Nothing, it seems is exempt – from training delivery to the police custody process.
The emergency has also taught us something of the inter-dependencies that are vital to policing. We have known for a long time that our police do not operate in a vacuum when it comes to the delivery of public services in partnership. But what is less obvious is the complex commercial supply chain that enables the modern British police service to function at the high level that we have all come to expect. These supply chains are international and interdependent. So, when the police service set about the task of changing its operating model virtually overnight, it was no surprise that the fragility of that supply chain might become apparent when it came under such strain.
In late March, police ICT departments set about turning many fundamentally office-based operations into organisations of home workers. It needed to achieve this change in about a week, making a mockery of digital transformation programs that have in some places dragged on for years.
Unfortunately, the very laptops, mobile devices and other equipment on which this change was to depend were nowhere to be seen. Ideally, they should have been manufactured In China and the Far East at the very beginning of this year but, as we all know, China had more important things to preoccupy it in January than making our laptops. This led to empty warehouse shelves across the western world and a great scarcity of equipment.
The world of police procurement has had more than its share of critics over the last decade or more. The new Blue Light Commercial organisation, conceived as a means of improving the situation, is not yet up and running and is therefore powerless to help. The Police ICT Company, working with the National Police Technology Council, was immediately faced with unprecedented levels of demand to provide support to forces – stretching their resources and requiring an immense team effort.
In what is becoming typical of the pragmatic way in which we are all fashioning a creative response to coronavirus, a public private partnership was established to mitigate the risk. The Police ICT Company worked with a very large private supplier to arrange unparalleled and unprecedented access to the vendor’s own system, through its portal, for every police force.
Accessing the portal via the Police ICT Knowledge Hub, force procurement teams were given direct access overnight to a range of over 40,000 products from 200 vendors. Without needing to wait for replies, they could see stock levels, detailed product information, and availability as well as being able to order equipment securely, 24/7 and then track their orders.
Given the often-derided state of police procurement, it is a genuine and very pleasant surprise to see the effectiveness and speed with which this collaboration has been achieved. I have little doubt that there are many more examples and countless more companies who would have been only too willing to help had they only been able to engage.