When it comes to deciding whether to implement any new Digital Policing technology, or any other new process for that matter, there is only really one question to answer: What is the ROI (Return on Investment)?
Invest in the latest Digital Policing technology and you will save time and money, your officers will be happier and more productive, and you will be able to cope better with the constant pressure to do more with less!
You will have undoubtedly heard a mantra similar to this over and over again. The big problem is that while there is much truth to such claims, they need to be backed up by hard facts, in order to have any real credibility. Ask yourself some direct questions:
- What is the cost of doing nothing or doing things the way we have always done?
- What savings do I get if I do change?
I was very interested to read about the approach that Thames Valley Police has taken, in an article published in The Reading Chronicle. In the report, Chief Constable Francis Habgood talked about several shrewd initiatives that have been introduced, such as the use of smartphones that enable officers to take ‘the office’ out on the streets rather than doing all of their work back at the station.
He also explained how they have closed front counters at a number of stations (saving more than half a million pounds), paving the way for using digital technology to interact with the public. The force had surveyed 10,000 people asking for their attitude to reporting non-urgent cases, and one in ten stated that they would be more comfortable with this approach. That may not seem very high, but scale it up and it could mean that they would be handling 10,000 fewer calls out of every 100,000. And if you have 10,000 fewer calls you naturally need less calling-taking resources and fewer staff, which translates into pretty substantial cost savings.
Similarly, last year Cambridgeshire Police announced the trialing of Skype for post incident interviews with victims of certain types of crime. Meanwhile, other forces have embraced digital channels as a way for victims of crime to share evidence that would historically have been collected by an officer. Again, it is relatively easy to calculate the cost savings from officers not having to be in transit (hourly rate of the officer x number of hours on the road). And if you want to get really into the detail, add in the cost of the fuel used for these trips, plus depreciation and wear and tear on vehicles.
By taking an analytical and tactical approach there are many areas where the shrewd use of Digital Policing technology can reap substantial and demonstrable savings. Of course, one of the key challenges is to know where you should start looking. There are so many examples coming to light as forces work hard to rethink or reinvent how they have always done things. However, here are some easily overlooked areas where forces that I have spoken with have been able to calculate and realize returns:
Paper and storage savings – The vast majority of command and control operations moved to digital recording years ago. However, there are other operational areas that can still benefit from going ‘paperless’ and ‘tape-free’ such as storing case information and evidence (wherever possible) digitally. This has the added benefit of making it easier to log and securely store records, while also making it easier for authorized personal to access that information. In addition, it cuts down on deduplication of information and the reliance on (and associated cost of) DVDs and USBs.
- How many pages do you generate for each report on average, and what is your per-page cost of printing?
- How many reports do you write each month?
- How many DVDs do you buy and what is the cost?
- How much storage space do you currently require for paper and DVD evidence and reports?
- What is the cost of your storage? It’s probably more than you think.
On-premise vs. cloud solutions - Today, it’s not only a question of what Digital Policing technology you implement but how you choose to deploy it that can make all the difference. Traditionally, forces have opted for on-premise solutions, taking a conservative and largely outdated view that this is the more secure and reliable route. In doing so they are overlooking some significant savings, as cloud solutions require much fewer resources to run. What’s more they can offer:
- Operational agility – the solution is ideal for agencies with growing or fluctuating caseloads and demands. If your caseload increases or storage needs increase, you can instantly scale up your cloud capacity, drawing on the service’s remote servers. Likewise, if you need to scale down again, the solution is inherently flexible.
- Fast, cost-effective disaster recovery – Media and data critical for incident reconstruction can be reliably recorded, stored and accessed. In the event of a disaster it can be recovered far quicker than conventional taped-based back-up. Also, with cloud-based storage you’re only paying for what you need.
- Automatic software updates and virus checking – Minimizes the resources and expertise required to maintain the systems.
The approaches I discuss above are far from putting your hand down the back of the sofa and trying to find some small change. There are some seriously big savings to be made from what on the surface might appear to be insignificant changes and ‘small details.’ But by challenging how things are done today and being open to change, you will soon begin to uncover opportunity after opportunity to reallocate budget to other areas of the force that really need it. Your boss and taxpayers will love you for it!