by Mark Chillingworth

CIO Profile: Met Police CIO Ailsa Beaton on keeping pace with London’s policing

Jul 21, 201112 mins
GovernmentIT LeadershipIT Strategy

Scotland Yard, like Wall Street, Whitehall or Broadway, is more than just a location on a map. Thanks to the novels of Arthur Conan Doyle and the denizens of Fleet Street, this Westminster street has become synonymous with London’s police force, the Metro­politan Police. The Met actually left Scotland Yard itself in 1890, moving across St James’s Park to the headquarters it christened New Scotland Yard, where it remains to this day.

When an authoritarian institution becomes as noted as Scotland Yard an air of expectancy and intrigue follow it. Formed in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel, the Metropolitan Police Service originally had just a thousand officers to police a seven-mile area around Charing Cross train station in the very heart of London.

Today the force employs 32,300 offic­ers, according to its own website. The manpower divides into 14,200 acting ­police ­officers, 230 traffic wardens and 4300 ­Police Community Support Officers. Where it once had responsibility for a population below two million, today Met police officers cover a 620 square mile area that has a population of over seven million.

The Met is not only a big police force for the nation’s biggest city, it is arguably the most important police force in the UK due to the extra responsibilities it carries out on behalf of national policing. Counter-terrorism policing in the UK is the responsibility of the Met, as is the daily protection of the Royal Family and senior members of the government.

Scotland Yard itself is basically an operational headquarters for the Met, which has 140 police stations across London. There are no cells at Scotland Yard, our interviewee informs the CIO team, and security to get into the building is, as you would imagine, very tight. The building throbs with activity, but it’s not the heady mix of society’s ills which you may experience on visiting a police station on a Friday or Saturday night. Scotland Yard’s reception is hectic, but ordered, and the impression is one of a nerve centre, with those 140 police stations acting as the limbs of the force, reaching out to feel the collar of the unsuspecting criminal.

Mapping the difference

A map of the force’s policed area adorns the wall outside the office of CIO Ailsa Beaton, and most of the staff we saw around the building were non-uniformed. Having ­visited the headquarters of London’s fire service in the last six months there is juxtaposition between the two critical emergency services, but while the fire brigade was clearly the administrative hub for the capital’s fire service, Scotland Yard is a combined brain and heart, sending out ­intelligence and activity to its front line.

As the police force for one of the most important and vibrant cities in the world life is never dull nor easy for the Met. Cast an eye over its recent history and there are highs and lows. The death of newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson following the G20 protests, the internal investigations following the death of Stephen Lawrence and the recent revelations around Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers and their phone hacking activities are stark lows. But the city remains tolerant, major events mostly pass without incident and terrorism plots have been foiled.

Beaton is CIO and director of information at the Metropolitan Police, a force which claims 25 per cent of the policing budget and activity in Great Britain. ­Beaton’s beat is a busy one: as a public sector CIO she’s busy trying to reduce costs in line with coalition government demands, while preparing the city police for the Olympics of 2012, and as she meets CIO the force has just successfully policed the Royal Wedding. As with many CIOs who came into the public sector in 2000, she ­inherited an organisation that needed some core modernisation.

Her department within the Met, the Directorate of ­Information (DoI), is res­ponsible not only for the delivery and management of the IT required to run the Metropolitan Police, but is also a hub for information management and provides the Met with detailed information analysis which is used directly in policing decision-making. This information management role ensures police officers receive accurate information at the time it’s needed. You get the impression from talking with Beaton that this is considered the more ­important half of her departmental role as she points out the addition of CIO in her job title is simply for clarification outside of the Met, although the DoI does provision IT services to the Met.

At the heart of Beaton’s department is the Metropolitan Police Service ICT strategy for 2010 to 2017, which as Beaton explains is a classic alignment exercise of stating how IT plays a part in the over-arching plans of the force.

“The latest plan looks at the investments for system replacement and new areas of IT benefit, particularly where we can reduce costs and improve the use of the assets, which needs to be done across the organisation,” she says.

The DoI planis an introduction to the Met since Beaton joined the force and she credits them as central to the modernisation that has swept through the force in the last decade.

“The DoI reports are an annual process. There’s a three-year plan and then an ­annual refresh every year to re-assess the plan, except for the major capital investments,” she says.

Beaton is especially proud of the location tracking technology that exists in the Met which allows vehicles and police constables to easily keep in touch with command centres for their own safety.

“We realised that these systems could generate management information that would allow people to monitor performance and intelligence on where crime was happening and the location of our people,” she says of the further benefits that enhanced tracking systems have introduced to the Met.

“The main piece of it is around the safety­ and welfare of our officers. The most important thing as an officer is to say where you are and that was an important selling point for it into the force.

“If we can send the nearest skilled person to any incident, that improves the benefits to our customers. One of the areas that I’m responsible for is the performance information bureau,” she says of the ­targets and information the Met provides to Londoners. Beaton is the force’s first CIO and director of information, and critically sits on the highly important Met Management Board. “The commissioner (Sir Paul Stephenson at the time of the interview, before his recent resignation) chairs the board. There are five ­assistant commissioners on it, then myself and the directors of resources and public affairs,” Beaton explains.

“Our role is mainly strategic forward-planning, budget planning and then day issues. We have Monday, Wednesday and Friday briefings and then a monthly meeting for the more strategic issues,” she says.

The DoI has a staff approaching 1000 as well as over 120 contractors, and provides the Met with three services: IT, information services and technical services. ­Information services deals with information compliance like the Freedom of Information Act, while technical services ­ensures that the Met has CCTV images from security companies beamed into its control room at events such as the recent Royal Wedding.

Before Beaton joined the Met in 2000, the force had a Director of Technology, whose role was geared towards the functions and devices the police could use, ­including what panda cars were on the fleet. Her role is more strategic, offering a view of the information and infrastructure that operate the Met.

“When I joined you couldn’t send an email from one part of the Met to another, so there has been a lot to do,” she explains.

“There was a change of senior management and these people coming into the Met were used to strategic technology. So there was a change in focus to look more at the structure and you didn’t always get an organisation-wide approach.”

Service standards

Organisation-wide approaches contin­ue to be Beaton’s focus. Currently she and her organisation are involved in the deployment of ITIL which will play a lead role in improving the performance of her division, the systems it uses and the services it provides to the Met.

“We are doing well on the business process piece of ITIL,” she says. Among those systems due for renewal at the Met are the command and control system that informs PCs and units of every detail of information they need to police an incident and ensures that the right officers are in the right place.

“The command and control system is coming to the end of its life. It is an opportunity to look at how we support officers from a 999 situation to a Royal Wedding,” she adds.

Beaton is already investigating the next major outsourcing deal for the Met. The current deal, supplied by Capgemini, comes to an end in 2015, but the French consulting giant is working with the Met to develop a police service cloud and no doubt hopes to retain its lucrative deal with the force.

“The reason why we are working with Capgemini is because we have a contract with them to reduce our unit costs and that cannot wait until the re-tendering process begins,” Beaton explains.

“We represent 25 per cent of the whole of ­policing in the UK and this [IT in policing] is something that we are very good at and we would seek other forces to buy into it.”, she says.

Under Beaton the Met is no stranger to collaborative IT development. It works closely with the Greater London Authority for the provision of networking and is in discussions with Transport for London on additional areas of shared service ­potential.

The Met uses both SAP and Oracle ERP systems for the bulk of its IT needs, ­although police HR requires a bespoke system for duty planning.

“The Capgemini contract is geared towards delivering the technology we ­already have in place for infrastructure and networks. Development of new applications goes out to the market, with Capgemini then running them. Most of the tenders do not end up with Capgemini.”

A tender that came in for close inspection was the new £48m HR system from Steria, which some newspapers described as being in ‘crisis’ in May of last year. At the time, the project was said to be running £10m over budget and at least six months behind schedule. A year on, Beaton is sanguine and calmly says the project has been implemented and handed over for regular support.

“The HR system moves us to a self-service model,” she says. The programme is part of an efficiency programme across the Met to make savings of £366m.

“We have seen very significant changes.­ If you look at the systems that we are using we are ­trying to drive down the unit costs, but we get more and more requests for ­information services.

“We are seeing increased demands from counter-terrorism and the Olympics, and there are other parts of the organisation that see technology enabling them to reduce their costs.” Beaton has a capital budget of nearly £100m and an operational budget of £300m.

“The Olympics are not in the capex. Our strategy was to use the tried and tested systems and processes that we have. The main challenge with the Olympics is the length: typically events are just a day at a time.”

The Met was praised widely for its handling of the Royal Wedding and anyone with any experience of the city will know there is no such thing as a normal day.

Settling down

Beaton joined the Met from vendor ICL where she was a CIO, and before that she’d done a stint in consultancy with PA. Both roles had what she describes as a “nomadic existence” and the Met job was a chance to stay in London and be near her family.

“When I came into the public sector it was at a time that it was open to people coming in from outside and there were benefits for both sides and lessons for each,” she says of her early days.

“Central and local government have been slow adopters of technology in the past and have caught up in the last few years.

“ICL was an extensive user of ERP, when I came here they were just starting to use it. On the other hand the Met was ­sophisticated in its use of information management when compared to the private sector. There is lots of talk about BI at the moment, but that is very strong in policing.

“I did some work with computing at university and went to the computer centre with punch cards and getting pyjama green stripped paper back,” she says of her initial experience of the IT world.

“From university I went into accounting and got involved with the introduction of word processors and then end user computing at General Electric.”

Beaton soon found computing more interesting than accounting. Today her ­interest in IT is as strong and as a Met staff member she carries out some special constable policing duties once a month.

The calm chemist methodically working out the best formula shines through, especially as we photograph her in front of the famous revolving New Scotland Yard sign. Images captured, Beaton heads back into the Yard and gets on with the policing of London.