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November 18, 2016
Mastering the information explosion in policing: Turning complex data into actionable insights
By: Allan W Fairley

Too much data, too little time and resources to sift through it, and no logical approach for knowing what to look for, where and when. They’re all familiar challenges for police forces. In the first of a new series of blogs, Allan Fairley, managing director for Accenture Public Safety Services UK, explains how—with the right infrastructure, digital tools and skills—police forces can turn information overload into a powerful advantage.

Many police forces are struggling to cope with disparate legacy IT systems containing vast and ever increasing quantities of data. In a digital world, this information is complex and multi-dimensional: ranging from text, images, video and audio recordings to IoT sensors, and other unstructured data. Without the right infrastructure, tools and skillsets, the powerful insights contained within this resource will remain hidden. With a planned approach for managing and mining it, however, it’s a very different story.

The clock is ticking. Within the next two or three years, surging data volumes will pose a massive challenge: After all, in the past two years alone, more information has been generated than in mankind’s entire history. Most police and public safety forces already recognise how digital technologies, like advanced analytics, will help them harness their data to secure a range of benefits. But as things stand, few are ready to adopt these technologies.

The recent Accenture Public Service Emerging Technologies Research, 2016 puts this into perspective. Eighty-five percent of the policing/justice organisations we surveyed believe their senior leadership is ready and willing to support intelligent technologies. But they identify significant barriers to implementation: Uppermost among these are legacy systems integration, lack of internal digital skills and inability to hire.

Some fundamental questions have to be answered. Do police forces really want to own their own data-centres (which will become increasingly expensive to run as data volumes continue to surge) or should they move into the cloud? If the latter, they’ll be well positioned to learn from other organisations, such as banks, that have faced similar challenges in their moves to the cloud, specifically around handling highly sensitive data.

Other data issues must also be addressed. Because internal data is siloed and fragmented, getting a clear picture of any situation is very resource-intensive. Data needs to be integrated to give officers the richest possible view of a situation. And it needs to be auditable, so that operational decision-making can be backed-up and lessons learned and implemented. Data has to be accurate, so officers can have confidence in it. And it has to be timely, available whenever and wherever it’s needed. What about identifying relevant evidence from hours of video data captured by body-worn cameras? How can that be achieved accurately, at speed? How do officers protect the rights of law-abiding citizens that happen to be captured on video and what should be done with the footage that is not required for an investigation or case?

With the right strategic approach, the right technology infrastructure, the right skills and, crucially, the right analytics platform, police forces will be able to draw upon and interpret the information they need in real-time. This will enhance incident management, improve officer accountability and safety, and better protect citizens. Operational reporting and business intelligence will be transformed, raising efficiency and boosting performance, with ‘what if’ scenario planning allowing them to instantly identify the impact of redeploying resources.

The Metropolitan Police Force provides an example of what can be achieved. By applying predictive analytics algorithms to its currently held gang-related data, it has proved the ability to predict not just where crimes are likely to be committed ("hotspot" analysis), but which known suspect is at serious risk of committing them (identifying the gang members most likely to violently offend across 32 city boroughs).

Driven by the National Digital Policing Board, moves are already underway in the UK to accelerate progress toward a "digital first" mindset. This includes a special focus on analytics. But it’s still early days and there’s a lot of work to be done before police forces begin to get their arms fully around the looming data challenge.

And of course, data is just one of many considerations. Police forces urgently need to adopt and deploy a wide range of new technologies. If they’re to do so successfully, they need to rethink how they attract, retain and inspire a whole new generation of skilled digital professionals. In my next blog, I’ll be taking a closer look at some of these issues, and how to overcome them.

See this post on LinkedIn: Mastering the information explosion in policing: Turning complex data into actionable insights

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