The Metropolitan Police is rolling out cloud-based collaboration platform Box to 50,000 users in a bid to introduce efficiencies and stronger governance processes, so that police officers in the capital will have more time to focus on tackling crime.
CIO Angus McCallum told diginomica/government this week that digitalising content sharing in the force and with third parties, such as local authorities, will allow it to remove manual processes and reduce time-wasted collecting CDs and USBs, meaning officers can analyse documents and video on the go. As a result, the Met will be reducing its reliance on email as a tool for sharing information.
Box was procured through the G-Cloud and the Metropolitan Police has come out of a pilot phase, which began six months ago, and expects the full rollout to be completed by June. McCallum explained:
What we really wanted was a collaboration tool, so we can share securely information with third parties, so it can be structured appropriately, make sure it’s in the right folders, it’s not being stored in email etc. Third parties range from local authorities and upwards.
Just to give you an idea of examples. We did a lot of pilots with Islington, which is also a Box customer – rather than them saying ‘I’ve seen something on the CCTV, do you want to come and collect a CD?’, they send us a link. That saves us a lot of time, it’s just sent electronically to our control room. They can even annotate it. The officer picks it up straight away, they can look at it and determine if there is a crime there.
A similar thing we are doing with the bus garages, if we request CCTV because of an incident on a bus. We also have an electronic link right through to the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service), through our case management system, so the whole lot is an electronic transfer of data.
We are also using it for 999 calls. Previously if we had a 999 call that needed to go to court, we would burn CDs, a number of copies that would get shared with lawyers and the CPS, now that’s all shared through electronic links.
McCallum said that the reason the force chose Box was because of its ease of use, simplicity and the willingness of the Box team to engage with the Met and help it through the pilot. In addition, McCallum was impressed with the security features, allowing the force to hold its own encryption keys, for example. All of the data shared on the platform will be hosted in Europe, to comply with data protection regulations.
The CIO added that one of the other major advantages is that when using Box with third parties, those third parties do not need to have a licence to take advantage. McCallum said:
I think one of the advantages of Box, is that they don’t need a Box licence to use it with us. If you look at something like the CPS, although I believe they’re now buying some of their own licences, they didn’t need to do that for how we wanted to operate down that chain. I think that’s a big plus. If we share with a council that doesn’t have Box, they don’t need a licence to get access.
McCallum said that the Met will be moving away from its other document storage systems and that there will be a “big culture change” around getting people away from using email as a document repository.
McCallum explained that during the pilot, officers were coming up with ideas of how to use Box that he hadn’t even thought of – such as with 999 calls. However, he added that the force will be introducing new governance procedures when using it with third parties, as he doesn’t want “thirty different ways of bus garages sending us CCTV footage”. He said:
So it’s about controlling it. There will be some governance, with third parties we do want an element of structure.
In terms of challenges, McCallum said that the pilot was very smooth and there has been no resistance from users, who are embracing it wholeheartedly. However, there was some initial convincing required of information security staff that a cloud-based tool was the way to go. He said:
It gets embraced by the officers. The main thing I would say about resistance, is convincing people around the security of it, which you can understand, but explaining how you’ve actually reduced your risk from where you are today to where you will be in the future. I can understand people are nervous around that. But what you generally find is that the officers embrace it and push the boundaries.
Coinciding with the rollout is the Met’s distribution of tablets to officers on the move, of which 25% of the force have now received. Last week the Met rolled out 1,687 tablets, giving you an idea of the pace it is moving at. This will allow officers to access Box on the go, introducing further efficiencies. McCallum expects the direct benefits to be that officers can then spend more time dealing with crime, rather than on manual processes. He said:
It’s around productivity. If you can free up an officer for three hours, that’s three hours they can spend on more worthwhile things, in terms of helping to reduce crime. The other benefit is speed. If you think in the past, if you had someone committing a crime on the bus, it might be three days before you get that CD and analyse that – and during that time that person could still be committing crimes. We can now react much faster.
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