Data management is seemingly one of the technology industry’s biggest challenges as the rate of data inflation is only increasing. Helen Davis, Assistant Director of IT & Digital at West Midlands Police (WMP), tells us how the force has completely reworked its data analytics capabilities with the help of Cloudera and Accenture, enabling improved support for the local community and the effective management of the massive amounts of data the organisation has access to.
Working for the second largest police force in Britain, Helen Davis, Assistant Director of IT & Digital at West Midlands Police (WMP), has forged a successful path in an industry where women make up less than 10% of the leadership team. Working with Cloudera and Accenture, Davis has transformed the force’s digital strategy using data to significantly improve operations. Now, she leads a team of data scientists and engineers and works alongside a bespoke data ethics committee to push the force’s data further than any other police force in Britain, to date.
Can you give us an overview of the Cloudera and Accenture solution and why you decided to work with those vendors in particular?
We chose to work with Accenture and Cloudera as it gives WMP the combination of technologies and expertise that we needed to achieve the scale and complexities of our data aspirations. The partnership also affords the force access to traditional strategy, consulting and technology skills, to help support us through the implementation of technologies we’d never worked with before.
In partnership with Accenture and Cloudera, we have completely reworked our data analytics capabilities, implementing the Data Driven Insights Project. This move has increased our insights, allowing for informed decision-making which means we can better support our local community — the ultimate goal for any police force.
To start, we moved away from our previous fixed legacy system, to a cutting-edge cloud-based model. As a result of this updated framework, data can be accessed anywhere, by anyone with the right permissions, at any time, and is not restricted by storage space. Instead, we can now expand data storage as and when needed, without having to swap out any current information. Because of this pay-as-you-go method, we now have financial flexibility and the ability to grow. More specifically, since implementing the Data Driven Insights Project, the force has been able to effectively manage the massive amounts of data we have access to, and provide it to those both in desk-based operational roles and out in the field, at the touch of a button. Instead of notes being made on paper, the digital touchpoints can be stored and analysed in real time. The project enables WMP to improve the quality, speed and efficiency of the way we are able to share our information.
What are some of the challenges the solution helped you to overcome?
If I had to summarise, I would say the main challenges we had were in relation to being able to address the consolidation and accessibility of our data. This sounds very simple, but it was a hugely complex and ambitious challenge. Previous to our work with Accenture and Cloudera, our data was spread across a range of legacy systems with many duplications and no clear single view. Access to some systems was also limited to an office or police station. This meant crucial data was sitting in silos, making it difficult to retrieve information and any queries involved complex and time-consuming processes. Implementing the Data Insights Project has allowed us to hold our data in one place while making that data fully accessible to everyone that needed it.
How has the solution enabled police on the street to do their jobs better?
The Data Insight Projects allows us to be flexible, scale and also drive interoperability. When combined with other projects (for example mobility and application modernisation), it has enabled us to drive efficiency and effectiveness into front line operational policing. Ultimately, this is about equipping our officers and staff with the tools and information to allow them to provide a better service to the citizens of the West Midlands.
The complexity of this product is in the underlying data processing but the visible impact on operational policing is simple: WMP is now matching and merging all key data multiple times a day to provide an up-to-date searchable dataset across the force which we then use across the new services. This provides joined up information more quickly and in a more automated, repeatable way.
How important is Digital Transformation for the force and how have you transformed its digital strategy by using data?
This really is a new era for the force. The Digital Transformation programme at WMP was predicated on the better use of data. We recognise that technology and the environment we operate in is moving ever more quickly. Our partnership with Accenture and Cloudera, based on cloud-driven technology, is enabling us to keep pace with change and is providing a framework for further innovation and iteration. Since the implementation of the platform, 15 (with 80 planned) complex data sources have been integrated into a single highly scalable search platform. Subsequently, the force now has a single source of truth for all police data, which can be securely accessed by 8,000 concurrent users, instantaneously, across desktop and mobile. However, the most important aspects of our Digital Transformation is how these digital advancements are helping the team perform better in their everyday jobs, meaning they can better serve their communities.
Police on the street can now get vital information via an app, for example, about a location or car registration, at the touch of a button. This means officers can respond quickly and don’t have to return to the station, or spend unnecessary time performing a manual process, to gather this information. Furthermore, the platform allows us to investigate and identify insights that can help keep both our officers and the community safe. For instance, immediate access to records on offenders whose criminal activity placed the largest burden on the police force — meaning if an officer comes into contact with such a person, they will be equipped with the background knowledge to be able to respond accordingly.
There are also apps to support the team when they are on the go, such as the Crimes Visual Analytics App. This enables key decision-makers to track a host of KPIs related to reported crimes across the West Midlands region. In more practical terms, the app means that the WMP can improve how it deploys its resources to combat particular crime types across specific regions. Meanwhile, the Enhanced Incident Management Performance Apps allows more tactical decision-making based on 999 calls. Through this app, it is easier to see which officers are available and therefore, able to get to the scene of the crime fastest. This used to be another purely manual process, however, since our Digital Transformation, our officers have expedited their response times, reaching citizens in need more rapidly.
Overall, the business benefits we have seen as an organisation undergoing a Digital Transformation and putting the infrastructure in place to efficiently manage and process data are endless. By creating a central platform where data is effectively stored and shared, we have been granted the opportunity to make better, more informed and smarter decisions that have ultimately transformed the way in which we operate for the better.
How has the solution meant end-user search query times have been reduced?
At the heart of the Data Insights Project is a data hub that consolidates every piece of information, no matter where it originates, meaning key insights can be pulled instantly. This has had a hugely positive impact on the speed in which the team is able to pull queries. Now, running a query, what we call a technical term for requesting information from the database has reduced from minutes, for complex queries, to just a few seconds. To put this into context, so far the function has already been used to inform over 1.5 million inquiries. Other groundbreaking changes include the ability to process hundreds of millions of records every 120 minutes, helping to inform over 193,000 enquiries per month.
Are there any industry barriers that could be tackled so that more women can take on leadership roles?
Absolutely! Even though progress has been made over recent decades, when it comes to gender diversity we can’t rest on our laurels, there is still much to be done. Every one of us has a role to play in challenging the status quo because if we don’t, nothing will ever change. As companies make strides in Digital Transformation, in order to be successful, progressing diversity and innovation should go hand in hand. Women bring a different dynamic and approach to situations and challenges, all of which adds to the richness of any organisation. Organisations that are forward-thinking and have measures in place to attract women to senior roles need to be making these diversity measures as prominent in their marketing as they would the salary and benefits packages.
What advice would you give to women who are considering a career in IT?
Don’t change who you are, instead, strive to educate those who discriminate against you. It is easier, especially when you first start out in this industry, to think that you should conform to being a stereotype, which within IT/tech is most commonly attributed to either being male or if a woman — difficult or hard. Sexism is not always easy to challenge, but you can educate people by highlighting why their actions are inappropriate. I would urge everyone to embrace their individuality and don’t be scared to try new things or stand out. This is something I have lived by throughout my career and have never once regretted, in fact, it’s helped me get to where I am today. Jumping into the unknown and seizing opportunities is what opens new doors and is what enabled me to progress in my career and is also when my work becomes more rewarding.Click below to share this article