This is a blog from May 2014 which is being readded to the iNetwork website

Our business, within iNetwork, is to bring people together to innovate, share ideas and influence thinking. Connections and ideas that take root at our events are often nurtured elsewhere beyond the day. We create the space for conversation but we often do not see the benefits from the seeds that we sow.

It was therefore gratifying to attend the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) Innovation Day, hosted jointly by the GMP and Microsoft, that came about directly from a connection made at iNetwork’s 2013 Winter conference.
As you might expect from a Microsoft partnered event, it was an opportunity to showcase Microsoft owned technologies such as Yammer, Microsoft Dynamics, City Next and Beat App.

As interesting as these technologies were, what really caught my attention were the discussions that came from trying to think through the challenges for which these technologies were presented as a solution. It was glaringly apparent that the issues that the Police face are no different to that which other public sector bodies have talked about… data sharing, organisational culture, economic constraints, channel shift, multi-agency working. What was uplifting was that it seems the Police are as committed to overcoming these challenges as any other sector that iNetwork supports.

So if there is a will, surely there is a way?

Simon Parr, Chief Constable, Cambridgeshire Police certainly agrees. He argued in his presentation that the answer technologically is always ‘yes’. What prevents us from sharing data, and continuing to do the things in the way we have always done, is not technology. Indeed, what does hold us back was eloquently described by Angus Foreman, Microsoft.

Angus made an interesting case that two thirds of the typical workforce is disengaged with work and the reasons why stem from the fact that the way we work today is affected by the technological constraints of yesterday. The industrial revolution changed the way we work; we became more efficient and predictable on the one hand. On the other hand, individuals that used to own the whole process from start to finish became disengaged from the outcome when they were placed in charge of only one part of the assembly line.

Technology can allow us to work with agility yet email bogs us down, flexible working is usually seen as a ‘privilege’, and open plan office space is usually required for all except the big boss whose desk is at the end and his computer faces the wall so cannot be seen by prying eyes.

Cambridgeshire Police is the poster boy for addressing some of the organisational constraints head on, from the top. Deeming that there is absolutely no legal necessity to print on paper, Cambridgeshire police aim to be paperless in two years. They are taking out hundreds of printers with the intention of digitising everything and making best use of their CRM system (they use Microsoft Dynamics, if you are interested).

Deploying thousands of handheld devices to their frontline workers, Cambridgeshire Police are determined not to continue to work in an analogue way and they do not want to continue to be data rich but information poor. The imperative is that public sector organisations must move from “you only share data if/when…” to “you must share data unless…” in order, for example, to prevent another serious case review of a death of a child.

Tim Ellis, KBR, noted in his presentation that all organisations should provide open linked data, as working in partnership is the only way forward. This sentiment, of partnership working, was clearly echoed by many in the room, particularly Linda Chandler, Managing Architect for City Next, Microsoft UK who gave a presentation that looked at how a platform can underpin an entire city area.

Linda argued that when it comes to data sharing, we need to go back to first principle: what would you use data for rather than just release everything.
All in all it was a very inspirational day and it was intended to be that sort of an event; in that respect, it clearly hit the mark.