In this blog, Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO and Co-Founder of Content Guru, discusses how pioneering police forces are using cutting-edge cloud technology to transform the way they communicate with the general public.
We are living through the most turbulent of policing times: demand is at unprecedented levels, crime is rising, public confidence is diminishing and resources are under acute pressure. To top it all, the new generation of leaders in policing in 2022 is younger and less experienced than ever before. It’s a challenging landscape, to say the least. As a technologist, I don’t profess to have answers to all of the challenges facing the service, but there is an opportunity for the right tech to make a real difference – and quickly.
From my conversations with senior policing leaders, I believe their analysis of the sector can be split into two sections: the challenges facing policing on the one hand, and the opportunities and assets that will help overcome these on the other. Many of the challenges will be familiar to organizations across public service and in other sectors: resourcing, skills, demand and critical media coverage, to name but a few. Similarly, some of the positives have a familiar ring: the commitment of the workforce, support of communities and the public service ethos. Where I find policing unusual is that technology – and especially communications technology - invariably finds its way into the list of ‘problems’ rather than ‘opportunities’.
Yet there are dozens of technologies out there – already deployed in multiple sectors – which would have an instant and dramatic effect on policing as we know it. They are readily available and easy to implement: most don’t even rely on changes to existing police infrastructure or practices. The transformational technology comes in the form of Software as a Service (SaaS): a cloud layer that overlays existing systems and has the power to integrate disparate data and separate departments. A small but growing number of forces are using such technology to transform the area of public contact. It’s one of the biggest challenges for policing, yet it’s crucially important. As I heard one leading chief constable say, of being there to help when people are in need, “It’s our number one promise to the public.”
Policing in the digital age
The way people communicate with one another has evolved beyond recognition over the past couple of decades. First, there was a mass shift from landline telephony to mobility, followed by the rise of email and the internet. More recently, voice has tended to be overtaken by messaging, and the rise of social media has been inexorable. The annual Hootsuite digital trends report for 2022 has some striking findings – not least that the number of people using the internet in the UK continues to rise by over 300,000 per year – and now 98% of our community is connected online. Not only does this debunk the myth that the older generation have no appetite to engage with public services digitally, but it casts a critical light on the fact that, in some areas, 80% of engagement with the police is still channeled via traditional telephony. This dated approach aligns poorly with public demand for omnichannel communication, is costly to a service already being hit by budget cuts, and its lack of scalability and reliability is putting unmanageable pressure on forces. But change is just around the corner.
Content Guru is pleased to be working with a handful of forces who are leading the way in implementing omnichannel technology. Shifting from outdated non-cloud telephony systems to offering a range of communication channels drastically improves efficiency and the citizen experience. A successful digital encounter typically costs an organization just one sixth of a telephone interaction, while enabling operators to service demand through several channels simultaneously significantly reduces queues of frustrated – and potentially endangered – callers waiting to get through. In addition, the omnichannel approach gives the public the choices they crave in the digital era – routing more routine enquiries to digital and social channels frees up operators to deal with more complex, serious issues over the phone.
Navigating the data minefield
The best-of-breed technologies in this space also help the police operator cope with what David Jackson, Business Engagement Director at the Police Digital Service, recently described as a data tsunami. There’s a requirement for data processing capabilities that simplify the available information without overwhelming the operator. The great news is that this technology is available – although for policing to benefit from the best solutions will require some compromise on the habit of ‘bespoking’ processes, which has been an enduring barrier to getting the best out of new technology for the police.
Of course, the police are right to remind us that their work is special. The public entrusts policing services with extremely sensitive data, and isn’t prepared to tolerate service outages. But again, there are solutions out there that can clear the very high bar that policing sets for availability and security. This technology keeps people’s experiences at its heart. It makes the intense workload more manageable by reducing the number of interactions and therefore opportunities for frustration; while providing a more positive user experience: simpler workflows, less tabbing between databases and more scope to monitor employees and support them through stressful interactions in real-time.
In short, shifting technology from the list marked ‘problem’ to the list marked ‘opportunity’ is easier than one might think. The example of omnichannel public contact is beginning to make its mark, but there are plenty of other areas which will follow suit.
There are some admirable pioneers in policing implementing change in the knowledge that someone has to make the first move. Those that do so early will be the first to feel the benefit of transformative technology: either mitigating, or in some cases replacing, the legacy systems that have, for so long, ensured that technology stays in the ‘problem’ section.
These solutions are affordable, secure, reliable, and easy to implement and maintain – so there really is no excuse not to embrace them. After all, being there when needed is the number one promise that policing makes to the public.