The Metropolitan Police is embracing Box, ditching Windows XP and isn’t averse to using smart speakers like Amazon Echo in the future, according to its CIO Angus McCallum.
The force has undertaken a number of digital transformation projects in recent years, such as the use of tablets and body cameras, and there have been moves to consolidate legacy technology systems, reduce its data centre footprint and streamline IT staff. Last year it agreed a £100 million contract with BT to underpin the transformation programme.
A deal with Box was struck last year and after a six month trial period, the Met is ready to start rolling out the cloud platform to 50,000 users.
“What we really wanted was a collaboration tool so you could share things in the right folders with third parties such as local authorities,” said McCallum.
Pilots saw officers share information with Islington Borough Council, which is also a Box customer, and transmit CCTV footage with bus garages. Previously, this information would have to be shared using physical storage and involved an officer having to retrieve it.
Now this can be done with a secure link, and the local authority doesn’t have to be a Box customer. Security was the biggest concern, but evolutions to the platform such as encryption key management, watermarking and the ability to track who has accessed what and when have eased any fears.
McCallum says the full roll out cannot happen soon enough and that it is only internal issues, such as single sign-on, that are holding this up.
“[Success] is being measured in terms of productivity,” he said. “If you can free up an officer for three hours then that’s a good thing.”
The Met chose Box over other products because of the technology roadmap and is excited about the arrival of the first AI feature – image recognition – later this year. McCallum said that if you can analyse information more rapidly, you can prevent further crime from occurring.
“It’s an off the shelf product and we can take advantage of the development and don’t have to invest in it,” he said, adding that some legacy document sharing services could eventually be shut down and that he was committed to shifting away from a culture that sees email as the primary document repository.
Indeed, McCallum has spoken to other police forces about its experience.
“We’ve talked because we’ve developed templates for certain things which wouldn’t be too different,” he said. “But you can be too optimistic about things like single-sign-on which can take a frustrating amount of time.”
The Met’s drive towards digital transformation is obvious, but it has been criticised for continuing to sign expensive and long-running IT outsourcing contracts with huge vendors – something which the Metropolitan Police has form in – and its continued use of Windows XP, which has been unsupported for several years, putting the data of citizens at risk.
McCallum said the migration away from Windows XP to Windows 10 would conclude later this year.
“It is advanced,” he said. “Once our tablet and laptop rollout is completed, then the migration from Windows XP will be complete. We won’t have networked Windows XP machines at that time.”
And what about the future? Earlier this month it was suggested by Lancashire police that smart digital assistants such as Amazon Echo could be used to collect reports from the public and to disseminate information on crime.
Specifically, it is thought that the use of AI assistants could allow people to file crime reports and witness statements from their own home, reducing the strain on 999 call centres and on officers.
However the use of Echo by police would raise significant privacy concern as data collected would be transmitted and stored in the US.
Obviously these issues would have to be ironed out, but McCallum didn’t dismiss the idea.
“I wouldn’t say no,” he said in response to a question from Silicon. “But body-worn video cameras could be used to take statements for some minor crimes.
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