In my first blog on the evolution of policing as we coexist with the COVID-19 pandemic, I explored how public safety agencies will adapt to providing services in the ‘never normal’. And I highlighted four macro-level trends that will shape how agencies evolve: the adoption of digital technologies, the changing nature of work, the need to maintain citizens’ trust and confidence, and growing cross-agency collaboration.

In this blog I’ll focus on the first of these trends, the speed at which public safety agencies are adapting to digital service delivery, and the impact this will have longer term.

Digital drives collaboration

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella commented recently that COVID-19 has triggered “two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” For public safety agencies, the pandemic has accelerated the moves they were already making to deliver services through digital channels.

For example, the pandemic has shown many organisations that their workforces can successfully operate remotely using collaboration technologies and barriers, such as those related to security can be overcome. Public safety agencies are not exempt from this. The crisis has broken down many of the cultural and organisational barriers that previously stood in the way of digitalisation, with the rollout and adoption of new digital solutions happening at a dramatically higher pace than previously thought possible.

Accenture supported the NHS in rolling out Microsoft Teams technology, enabling 1.2 million healthcare employees to connect and collaborate. The deployment was completed in just seven working days. We have also seen Public Safety agencies making similar strides within impressive timescales.  Critically they are having to successfully manage not only the technical challenge but also the cultural one, helping their workforces transition to operating in a virtual environment.   In my view, such changes in workplace practices will take hold and continue well beyond the pandemic.

A case in point is the use of digital solutions across the criminal justice system as it complies with social distancing measures, manages mounting backlogs and prepares itself for any future disruptions. Video-enabled justice solutions have been introduced or piloted in many countries and existing solutions expanded to enable courts to run remote hearings during the pandemic, involving defendants, police officers, legal counsel and wider stakeholder groups such as youth offending teams and probation services. Whilst the pandemic might have been the catalyst the wider operational benefits and improved service delivery will mean they remain for the long term.

Innovations in service delivery

We’re also seeing increased digitalisation change the way services are – and will be – delivered to the public. In recent months this trend has manifested itself in the rising use of chatbots, virtual assistants, video services and online portals to help manage and respond to COVID-19 related queries and workloads. The move to deploy support mechanisms powered by artificial intelligence is likely to continue, as the public become more accustomed to this type of interaction and both agencies and the public experience the resulting benefits – helping to build trust and confidence in the police and their use of digital technologies.

As public safety agencies adjust to the ‘never normal’, I believe they’ll require solutions that help to drive efficiencies and longer-term saving, as well as provide new services. Solutions such as robotic process automation (RPA) can reduce manual activities and help to clear backlogs that have built up during the pandemic.

It is likely that the rate of cloud adoption will also increase, as public safety agencies look to embrace new approaches to service delivery, become more agile and encourage innovation.   Critically the cloud brings the ability to help manage uncertainty and unplanned demand with elastic capacity and variable costs.  Historic concerns around security have been addressed and the cloud provides a resilient, secure and practical option for public safety agencies.

A related shift is likely to be an increase in the use of analytical platforms to help agencies better manage data from a wide range of sources, gain deeper insights and operate with higher agility. The need to be able to pivot resources and focus quickly to counteract the changes in threats, especially  from cybercrime, which has increased during the pandemic, will result in agencies deploying new analytical technologies and tools to help identify, prevent and detect these threats.

Lower costs, higher efficiency

Finally, I think financial considerations will help to cement digital technologies in place. As the pandemic continues, new budgetary constraints will reinforce the need for longer-term adoption of some digital capabilities introduced as part of the crisis response. As these measures prove successful in reducing costs and boosting efficiency, agencies are likely to retain or even expand them further in years to come.

With this prospect in mind, try asking yourself this question: of the new digital tools that your agency has introduced in response to the pandemic, which will you keep as long-term solutions and in what form? While you consider your response, I’ll set about preparing my next blog in this series – which will focus on how COVID-19 has changed work, the workforce and the workplace as we know it.

 An earlier version of this blog was first published as an article in Policing Insight magazine.

James Slessor

Managing Director – Consulting, Public Safety Lead

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