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Raising the bar at British Transport Police

Michael Dean talks to Paul Day, Head of IS and Business Support at British Transport Police about their accreditation to the National Computing Centre Standard for IT Departments

British Transport PoliceFor the British Transport Police (BTP) 2012 will be a defining year. Policing the London Olympic and Paralympic Games will be a significant challenge and put them in the public spotlight. Yet whilst preparations are well under way for the games, including the roll out a significant new WAN for improved data and telecoms, BTP still have to deal with business as usual and that means policing the national railway and underground networks.

Whereas the majority of police forces are responsible for a particular geographical area, BTP are one of just three forces with a nationwide operation. Their remit is the security of the national railway and underground infrastructures. Uniquely for a police force, BTP are funded by a levy on the transport operating companies and Network Rail. They employ over 3,000 police officers across 146 sites in England, Scotland and Wales.

 Paul Day, Head of IS and Business Support at BTP is presented with the ITDA certificate from NCC's Dr. Daniel Dresner at a recent NCC event at the British Library
Paul Day, Head of IS and Business Support at BTP is presented with the ITDA certificate from NCC's Dr. Daniel Dresner at a recent NCC event at the British Library.

Paul Day is head of IS and Business Support, “We uphold the law and protect passengers, our role is primarily to stop disruption and help avoid the mini human tragedies that can ensue from a disrupted rail network.” Disruption can take many forms; from unruly behaviour at one extreme to terrorism at the other, along with fatal accidents and suicides and more recently, cable theft. “This is a serious issue”, says Day “As the price of copper has risen, so have the number of thefts. When the signals go down because cables have been stolen, thousands of people can be affected and the train companies lose revenue. This is not a victimless crime. We use the latest GIS technology to help analyse crime patterns and track down offenders and have just won a top international award (the Icon) for our spatial data management solution.” In May BTP also won an award for their server virtualisation work from the Public Sector Project of the Year. “Now we have been accredited to NCC’s Standard for IT Departments that’s three in row and testament to the hard work we have put in over the last year to raise our game,” said Day.

BTP have a reputation for being innovative with IT and were one of the first forces to deploy PDAs to help officers on the ground. Apart from deploying the new WAN, rationalising their portfolio of 160 applications and maintaining the command and control centres, Day is currently evaluating new mobile technology that will enable officers on the ground to perform live fingerprint checks – they can already access the Police National Computer. However, to reduce potential risks during the Games, there will be no new major technology deployments from January 2012 until after the Games. That means the desktop virtualisation project will temporarily be put on hold.

“With so much at stake next year we felt it would be timely to bed down recent changes and review our IT processes to ensure risks are recognised and managed appropriately.” said Day, “It is useful to shine a light on yourself from time to time, get some independent advice and take stock of your strengths and weaknesses, so we applied for accreditation to the National Computing Centre Standard for IT Departments.”

The NCCs IT Department Accreditation Scheme (ITDA) is a unique business improvement programme with a certification scheme that recognises excellence and effectiveness. The assessment scheme which underpins the NCC ITDA examines an IT department’s performance against 110 common controls (Lines of Enquiry) enabling the department to compare and understand its own strengths and weaknesses and make improvements if necessary. The ITDA is also an accreditation scheme, so those IT departments who demonstrate excellence are awarded with a recognised accreditation to the NCC Standard. The Standard has already been awarded to North Wales Police and Lancashire Constabulary.

“The ITDA is unique” says Day, “We looked at independent audits from the management consultancies, but felt that the NCC approach covered all the areas of activity we wanted to review, engendered team building and motivation and wouldn’t tie us into buying follow-on services.”

Following the introductory visit from the NCC Assessor who explained the requirements of the Standard, Day delegated responsibility to the team to gather the evidence required. “We shared the responsibility of evidence collation and met regularly to discuss any issues that arose. The process helped instil a team approach, but it also reminded us of some inconvenient truths.”

These truths were in fact minor and BTP did pass their accreditation. All organisations who undertake the ITDA also receive a bespoke Action Plan which prioritises continuous improvement. “Nobody is perfect,” Day said, “But we now have the independent recognition that we are good at what we do and a clear focus for the areas we need to attend to.”

“We have a better understanding of our strengths and weaknesses, including customer perceptions of IS. The ITDA includes a survey of stakeholder opinions and whilst the overall feedback was positive we are now more focussed on improving customer relationships. Getting the certificate is the first step in improving our credibility” said Day.

One of those customers is Chief Constable Andrew Trotter who is delighted with the department’s achievement. Day recommends other forces to seek accreditation, “ITDA has been a very valuable and cost effective exercise. Making the grade has been challenging, rewarding and motivational, but we continue to strive to raise the bar to support the force.” The Olympics will be a testing time for BTP, but IS has been shown to have the right processes in place to respond to business requirements and now they have access to a framework that will help them evolve post Olympics when business as usual is the order of the day.

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