Chris Marshall: Police Scotland’s £298m IT upgrade is long overdue

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The last time Police Scotland attempted to update its ailing IT system, it proved to be an unmitigated disaster. More than six years in the making, the i6 programme was finally axed in 2016 after testing discovered a series of irredeemable glitches.

Thankfully the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) was able to recover the roughly £11 million it had sunk into the project as well as a further £13.6m from the contractor, Accenture.

But the cancellation of the project, which had been due to bring together around 130 IT and paper-based systems used by the predecessor police forces, meant officers were left relying on out-of-date technology while battling increasingly sophisticated cyber criminals.

Now Police Scotland is back with a revised IT plan, one which comes with a not insignificant price tag of £298m.

A report on the business case prepared for the SPA board reveals the project will need £244m in capital funding and a further £54m in reform funding over the next nine years, while at the same time realising £357m in benefits.

It warns that at present, officers come to work, take off their wearable technology, lock away their personal smartphones and then take their notebook and pen out on to the streets.

According to the report due to be discussed by the SPA board tomorrow: “This official business case describes the basic technology and tools, not ‘cutting edge’ or ‘new’ technology, that we need to do our job of protecting the public and the most vulnerable in our society effectively, efficiently and safely in the 21st century.

“What we do have certainty about is that criminals, organised crime and terrorists will continue to exploit technology at an ever-increasing pace.”

The dire state of Police Scotland’s IT capabilities were highlighted earlier this year when Chief Officer David Page warned the force’s ageing technology was helping to give “bad guys an edge”.

Anyone who has watched recent police procedurals such as Line of Duty or Bodyguard will no doubt assume a level of sophistication where officers can be dispatched in a matter of minutes based on nothing more than a few dubious internet searches.

The reality is very different, with some Police Scotland officers still struggling to log in to computers when working from another office due to the difficulty in marrying up systems belonging to the country’s eight previous forces.

That Police Scotland’s officers should have the very best technology available to them is not a statement many would disagree with.

But there is a cautionary tale from the banking industry, where there is significantly more money available than in the cash-strapped world of Scottish policing.

When TSB attempted to introduce a new IT system earlier this year, it should have led to an improved and updated service.

Instead, nearly two million customers were left unable to access their online accounts following a meltdown which cost the bank £176.4m.

Ultimately it also cost TSB’s chief executive, Paul Pester, his job.

Police Scotland will be all to aware of the difficulties experienced elsewhere and the need not to repeat the disaster of i6.

Unfortunately all the evidence shows that when it comes to massive IT projects, huge amounts of pre-planning do not always guarantee success.