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

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.

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