Innovation and changeDigital TransformationHow do police devices fair in the 10 Year challenge?

How do police devices fair in the 10 Year challenge?

The 10 Year Challenge involves sharing two photos of yourself; one from today next to one from 10 years ago. The idea is to see how much, or how little you’ve changed in the last decade

As a means to powerfully show how quickly things can change, the 10 Year Challenge is very effective indeed. Looking closer to home, this got me thinking about how the devices used by frontline police officers have changed during the last decade. Would an officer of 10 years ago even recognise the tools of today? Or perhaps more alarmingly, has nothing really changed?

Operating Systems

Both the Windows Mobile and BlackBerry operating systems shown are no more (as has Symbian, Palm OS etc.). Android now dominates the police sector. While iOS has yet to make any serious inroads into the UK police sector, its success in the enterprise positions it well for success in the future. Perhaps the most interesting point when it comes to operating systems today is that the similarities far outweigh the differences. And with modern development tools, it is much easier to develop software across platforms (PoliceBox is available for iOS, Android and Windows UWP for example).

Handsets

Ten years ago BlackBerry was king, and the natural choice for much of the police and wider public sector. Yet these devices could not offer anywhere near the performance of an officer’s PC or laptop. Contrast this with the Android or iOS device in your pocket today, which could certainly give your desktop a run for its money. But raw computing performance isn’t the whole picture, as smartphones have many more technical features which PCs don’t generally have, such as cameras, GPS, accelerometers etc. which can all be utilised by mobile apps for an even richer experience.

How do police devices fair in the 10 Year challenge?

Software

Ten years ago, devices and the software that ran on them were much more closely tied together. BlackBerry, Palm, Motorola, Nokia, Ericsson etc. all ran their own software. While devices came in all shapes and sizes ten years ago (they weren’t simply big slabs of glass), third-party software was practically non-existent. You simply had to use the software that came with the device.

Funding

This has certainly changed a lot during this time. Back in 2009 funding was much more generous. Police forces across the country had Gordon Brown to thank for their shiny new BlackBerrys. The problem was they were deployed far too quickly with very little ecosystem or strategy to support them. Today, every constabulary is contending with nearly a decade of austerity, which is forcing police forces to find new ways of doing things and be more open to innovations. Ironically, while funding is more restricted today than it was in 2009, innovation certainly is not.

Before and after the cloud

Perhaps the biggest change to occur with police devices over the last ten years is not even visible to those using them; the shift to the cloud for police data and IT services. While Cloud First was announced as public sector policy in 2010, it only became a viable option for the police in the last few years. It brings massive advantages in terms of rapid deployment, security, scalability and performance for the police at a fraction of the cost paid by forces a decade ago.

The cloud is the gamechanger of the last decade, enabling forces to be relevant and adaptive to modern policing needs in spite of years of real-time budget cuts. Leveraged effectively, it has the capacity to yield significant cost savings and innovations for the police over the next decade.

UK Police recently got cloud-based crime solving analytical tools that will help them solve crimes.

The next 10 years?

Ultimately, police officers need the tools in their hands to get the job done. This means providing them with all the information they need to handle any situation. Any changes to police devices during the next decade should work towards the digital policing goals of the Policing Vision 2025, supporting services like digital evidence, digital contact, better inter-agency communication, etc. The devices and operating systems should become less and less important, with software and cloud services coming to the fore.

With that in mind, I expect the next time we do a 10 Year challenge we will focus less time on the minutia of device changes and operating systems, and more on the fundamental levels of support and intelligence afforded to our officers in the line of duty. The real differences will not be the devices in the officers’ hands, but the software and services behind them.

By Simon Hall, CEO, PoliceBox

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