Helping the police get the best out of technology – benefits realisation and whole systems thinking

Police technology is changing. Instead of a myriad of different systems for storing and handling data on crime and other incidents, the police are moving toward large modern shared inter-force platforms. Athena, one such platform, has the potential to transform policing.

By making intelligence available from other partner forces through intuitive flexible interfaces, and by digitising and automatically updating all records, Athena has the potential to increase detection rates, reduce crime, secure quicker convictions and to reduce the cost of policing. Athena is web-based so can be accessed through a range of devices – including hand-helds. Officers will no longer need to ‘call in’ to get information or indeed, to return to the station to update records. This means more time on the front-line. Updating to modern IT standards also means features like auto-fill and federated searches which will allow records to be automatically updated to prevent time wasting re-keying. That's the good news. The bad news is that organisational change, some of it painful, is needed to extract the value from these potential benefits. That's where benefits realisation comes in.

The research work commissioned from the IIMP was to assesses the Athena project’s benefits realisation process and documentation and to bring it in line with contemporary best practice. Benefits realisation ensures that project outputs, i.e. physical attributes like interfaces, certain processing functions and so forth, actually link, through clearly defined benefits and organisational change, to the objectives of the organisation. Only through a rigorous and purposive approach can the organisation identify and put in place the changes it needs to get the best out of the technology.

Our research is premised, not just on the varied tools and techniques of benefits realisation but also the wider precepts of whole systems thinking; that is, seeing change as interlinked across multiple sites and organisations. Our work with the police makes clear that projects link to organisational objectives in a multitude of ways. The Athena project, for example, sought to improve data quality and integration, make cost savings and improve the public perception of policing. System goals are not always written into the system at the start of the project, but emerge as the system is rolled out. ICT systems also have unanticipated ‘knock-on effects’ that ripple out through complex distributed organisations like the criminal justice system and indeed beyond into social services and other blue lights services. What benefits realisation work allows is the detailed mapping of these interactions, through workshops and interviews. Benefits realisation identifies ‘what needs to happen next’, along with identifying the governance that needs to be in place to achieve it. The research we undertook also reinforced the point that if organisations like the police want to capture the benefits from the changes they make, they themselves need to become both rigorous and flexible in their approach to organising.

Comments on our work from the leader for the regional change management unit included:

“It challenges what I have done, and our meetings have always made me think and review my work. As a result of your documents from last week, I will be refining the ATHENA plan, and a couple of others I have in place”.

Find out more about our BSc (Hons) in Policing and Criminal Justice.