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Cloud for Local Government Global Blog Series, Cloud and Law Enforcement (Part Two): The Time Has Come for Police-Force CIOs To Begin Focusing on Cloud

This is the second in a two-part blog series that examines the opportunities that cloud-based services offer to law enforcement agencies—along with the challenges of this fundamental shift in the way information resources are managed.

Information systems are at the core of all police organizations. Policing is an information business—arrests are made on the basis of information received and shared; intelligence is generated from analyzing data; and operational effectiveness depends on knowing where resources are.

Police organizations have been dependent on computers for 50 years, and police IT departments have been set up to procure and manage them. The development of the cloud has the potential to drive change. But, if we look away from innovative areas such as crowdsourced crime reporting and social media, adoption is slow. Why is this the case?

Cloud-like services are not new in policing. Since the 1970s, U.K. forces have benefited from the availability of information services provided by third parties in the form of the Police National Computer and, later, the DNA database and the national fingerprint system. These services have been provided by public-sector organizations—sometimes in collaboration with private-sector providers—and could be seen as a private-cloud service.

At issue now, though, is not just the provision of external information services. Cloud computing also raises the possibility of forces accessing critical internal systems via the cloud. This could include ERP, intelligence systems, command and control, and case management.

Decision makers in policing are understandably cautious, especially if they have limited cloud experience. In a risk-averse sector, first-mover advantage is less powerful a motivation than the reassurance that comes from following a successful implementation elsewhere. Of course, security concerns are high, and in many jurisdictions there are regulations that limit where data can be stored.

At the same time, efforts to develop public-sector clouds such as the U.K.’s G-Cloud have yet to have impact in this sector. In addition, there a perception that significant cost savings are unlikely. At a time when police forces are under pressure to reduce costs and the demands on existing systems are greater than ever, beleaguered IT departments are short of time to acquire the knowledge needed to for a new model of managing services.

Where, then, is change likely to begin? We suspect that, just as with social media, innovation will come from places where there is relatively little legacy and where there is a strong offering that emulates systems and applications that are already familiar from domestic use.

Mobile data services for frontline officers are a good example. Indeed, it is apparent that officers already use cloud services that don’t require access to police information (for example, Google Maps, which officers can access from their own smartphones).

As 4G mobile services are rolled out in policing, there will be demand for service providers to develop apps that can use police data and interface with legacy systems (with the right security capabilities built in). New intelligence tools such as Palantir, which can link analysts across organizations, will be cloud-based. In parallel, it is likely that support services will be outsourced, and that the systems integrators that provide them will look to cloud services as a means of managing the cost of serving multiple organizations.

Cloud services will inevitably become more important in policing. Innovators like Facewatch are showing the potential. Now is the time for CIOs in police forces to begin to learn more about how the cloud can work for them.

Stay tuned for the final couple blogs from this series, or click here to reserve your copy of our cloud resources for local government, as well as a copy of the complete compilation of this blog series when complete.

To read this blog in Spanish, click here.  For Portuguese, click here.

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