Police IT a 'mess,’ say MPs


UK police are being hampered by a "mess" of an IT infrastructure, with thousands of different systems making complexity a nightmare, MPs said today.

Police IT is "not fit for purpose" and is harming "police's ability to fulfill their basic mission of preventing crime and disorder," the Commons Home Affairs Committee report read.

It called on the Home Office to make revolutionising police IT a top priority.

The main reason for the mess is that the 43 forces have, between them, a multiplicity of different IT systems and IT contracts.

Home secretary Theresa May admitted earlier this year that the "current system is broken," noting that across the police service there were around 5,000 staff working on 2,000 different ICT systems.

She also revealed the police spend around 1.2 billion a year on IT, yet the infrastructure was still "confused" and "fragmented."

"The main reason for the mess is that the 43 forces have, between them, a multiplicity of different IT systems and IT contracts," the report read.

One major concern raised in the report outside of the inadequacy of the systems focused on what body would be placed in charge of IT procurement.

Currently, the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) is in charge of numerous nationwide projects, such as the Information Systems Improvement Strategy (IMIS) a shared platform delivered via a SaaS-type model.

The NPIA is also in charge of Project Athena an information sharing initiative.

However, the Government is phasing the NPIA out, so a successor is required.

"A successor must be found for many of the information and communications technology functions that it fulfills. This provides an additional urgency to the imperative for a new approach to police information and communications technology," the report read.

"However, in devising this new approach the Home Office must not neglect those few elements of the existing landscape that are working well. In particular, the Home Office must secure the future of ISIS and continue to support Project Athena."

More confusion

There is much bafflement over what the Government is planning to replace the NPIA with. The report called for greater clarity from the Coalition.

The Home Office has indicated no single body will replace the NPIA. It is establishing the National Crime Agency which will take on some of the responsibilities.

An as-yet unnamed police IT company is to be set up as well, which trade body Intellect believes will take on the contracts currently managed by the NPIA.

Nevertheless, there remains much confusion over what form NPIA's replacement the "IT company" - will look like.

The report welcomed a proposal from Intellect recommending the IT company use a single national register of approved suppliers to be updated annually.

Intellect itself believes the company should look at business issues first, rather than technical ones.

"The way to ensure improvement in police IT is for the police (or whoever acts on their behalf) and industry to sit down as early as possible to discuss what the business problem not the technology problem is they are trying to solve," Intellect's Francis West told IT Pro.

MPs will be hoping police IT will not suffer such catastrophes as the NHS and the fire service have experienced in recent years.

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.