Public safety agencies find themselves in the center of a digital storm that will disrupt every aspect of their operations. The question is whether they will emerge stronger–or significantly weakened–as a result.
The technology capabilities of citizens and criminals are increasing at an unprecedented pace. Some agencies have made significant advances with emerging technologies such as analytics, but most are struggling to keep up with the pace of innovation and relentless impact of digital disruption.
But the temperature is rising - public safety agencies can no longer delay embracing emerging technologies. Inactivity and hesitation risks not only giving criminals the upper hand, but also reducing levels of citizen engagement and satisfaction.
This bold industry paper draws on Accenture’s 2016 Public Service Emerging Technologies research to explore the opportunities for public safety agencies to embrace digital to disrupt their operations or risk being disrupted themselves.
Public safety agencies can only meet their current challenges by weaving people, processes and emerging technology together.
A majority of public safety agencies are aware of emerging technologies and ready to makes changes to accommodate them. Far fewer, however, have made the workforce changes needed to implement the technologies.
The current generation of emerging technologies promises to liberate rather than displace. For example, much policing work remains manual, and the next waves of technology automation (eventually powered by artificial intelligence) will streamline case management and investigative processes. Analytics can enable the rapid provision of actionable information about individuals to officers on the street. Robotics, can not only help with case processing but also provide information and support to citizens. And emergent technologies such as blockchain have the potential to transformation the security of transactions and evidence continuity.
This may sound futuristic but some public safety agencies are actively piloting emerging technologies already.
West Midlands Police in the U.K. use analytics to analyze information to better predict risk and threats and take action accordingly.
The use of video analytics and automation technology by France’s National Police Force has been used to enhance safety at major events.
Advanced analytics have been trialed in Singapore to help manage public safety in large crowds and respond to incidents in real time.
Wearables and embedded sensors are enabling real-time monitoring of incidents in San Francisco where firearm violence has reduced by 35% since streetlight sensors were deployed.
Community policing can be greatly enhanced by emerging technologies.
Public safety agencies told us that achieving an improvement in citizen engagement is a key expected benefit of investing in analytics or other emerging technologies. In addition to helping prevent crime, advanced analytics can help police officers understand citizens’ needs and expectations. Effective use of mobile technology, social media tools and citizen portals can expand communication channels and enable greater citizen cooperation in policing.
All of this helps to reduce not only crime but also the fear of crime.
When public safety technological innovation projects flounder, legacy systems often get the blame. Indeed, public safety agencies across the globe cite legacy as the dominant barrier to the implementation of emerging technologies. Platform and data-sharing technologies, however, have advanced to the stage where legacy systems are no longer a barrier for using advanced analytics, mobile and other emerging technologies. The value of legacy systems is largely in the data they contain. And now, it can be extracted, stored in a data warehouse or moved to the cloud to be readily searched.
Cultural resistance to change is a genuine impediment to innovation, but it too can be overcome. One way is by leveraging external assistance. For example, partnerships with universities, research institutes and the private sector can bring outside expertise to bear in solving technology-related problems. Accenture’s Innovation and Integration Partnership with the West Midlands Police in the U.K. is one such example. Similarly, Accenture’s Analytical Innovation Lab in Singapore acts as a hub for public safety agencies to master emerging technologies and connect with other experts from around the world.
Agencies can also call on online communities to help solve what to technologists are extremely interesting public safety challenges. Seattle police recently conducted a public hackathon to work out how to redact video streams from officers’ body-cameras. Israel’s National Crime Unit took part in a similar event, bringing together more than 100 officers, security and technology experts to devise solutions to cybercrime.
More targeted recruiting and development of people is another way to support cultural change. Young tech-savvy specialists are often interested in the exciting challenge and mission with purpose that public safety offers. Agencies must adjust to a world of fluid talent recruitment and devise flexible employment models to attract and retain the right people.
Public safety agencies do need to understand emerging technologies and how they can be applied, but they do not necessarily need to be ahead of the adoption curve. With restricted budgets and limited scope for taking risks, agencies can be “fast followers” – learning from early adopters in all sectors and adapting their implementation approaches accordingly.