This might come as a shock to fans of Flash Point or CSI, but few police departments in real life can search a database of potential suspects whenever a crime is committed – but business intelligence software developer Information Builders is helping York Regional Police, at least, change that.
For the past six months, the New York City-based firm has been helping YRP implement a new platform that, when finished, will not only provide the organization with a department-wide searchable database, but allow its chief and deputy chiefs to strategically manage their resources and track spending in a way that paints a clear picture of how much taxpayers are spending on their services as well.
“We suffer, just like every other organization, from a silo effect, where we have so much data coming into our organization in a variety of forms, and more often than not the only people who know it exists are the people who either send or receive it, and nobody else has the opportunity to integrate it,” YRP inspector Stuart Betts tells IT World Canada. “Yet for us, data is really only valuable once it’s been analyzed and turned into intelligence, after which we can take action.”
The inspector in charge of YRP’s strategic services, Betts and his team actually began considering business intelligence solutions for YRP four years ago. But before the organization could choose a partner, he says, it needed to do some housecleaning first.
“We didn’t have the integrity of data that we required to make proper use of it as a business intelligence tool,” he acknowledges. “So we embarked on a project to clean up our data, which resulted in some changes to how we deploy our officers, but also provided us with a platform on which we could build a business intelligence platform and tools.”
In the end, Betts says, YRP’s team chose to collaborate with Information Builders because of its people: Not only was the company’s staff in sync with YRP’s goals, but during the project’s development a group embedded at YRP headquarters has proven adept at making daily changes as quickly as YRP officers and support staff can ask for them, he says.
“Before we even get to the technology, we have to deal with the people,” Betts says. “And if the people can make you comfortable with the technology, then the people will bring the technology to life.”
While the platform represents Information Builders’ first law enforcement project in Canada, the company has already implemented several dozen in the U.S., including New York City; Charlotte, North Carolina; Kansas City, Missouri; and the state of Michigan. It also has built similar platforms for several Canadian municipal governments, including Montreal; Brampton, Ontario; and Richmond, B.C.
Central to the company’s approach to digital transformation is implementing what it calls a “3i” platform that is simultaneously focused on data intelligence, integration, and integrity, senior vice president and chief marketing officer Michael Corcoran says.
“Most vendors in our space focus on dashboards for executive management, but the real differentiator for us is our ability to deal with all forms and latencies of data, and make it available to every employee at every level, so that the operational decision-makers at every level, whether they be truck drivers or police officers or nurses or teachers, can have access to the data they need to do their jobs better,” he says.
And that appears to be what Information Builders has done for YRP.
How it works
YRP had four strategic reasons to implement business intelligence, Betts says, and initially refrained from choosing a partner until it had a clear idea for how it could pursue each of them:
- To strategically manage resources;
- To paint a clear picture of policing’s taxpayer cost;
- To maintain public safety;
- To help the organization build legitimacy, trust, and confidence in policing within its community.
True to Information Builders’ “3i” approach, data consistency is a leading focus for the YRP platform, with the organization incorporating real-time operational data from multiple platforms, allowing officers and other resources to be deployed wherever they’re needed as quickly as possible. On the data integration front, Information Builders is designing the platform to eventually use YRP’s considerable data resources to help solve crime through analytics. And on the data accuracy front, the organization is integrating supervision and strategic accountability into the platform.
“We want to ensure that our data allows us to make tactical and strategic decisions, and we believe Information Builders is helping us to do that in a way that wasn’t previously available to us,” Betts says.
The accountability component is especially important, providing YRP with a method of ensuring that the right people are located in the right place with the right information at the right time. At a glance, commanders can now know who is doing what where, and when, as well as the results of their efforts. Eventually, he says, this will provides the organization with the opportunity conduct an accurate cost/benefit analysis.
“Police salaries account for more than 90 per cent of our operating budget, and it’s simply not possible to do more with less,” Betts says. “But we’re working on developing a process that will integrate with calls for service so that at any given time we can know what a particular investigation or response to a call costs from beginning to end.”
Navigating the (lack of) bumps on YRP’s roadmap
From a developer standpoint, three challenges typically present themselves when Information Builders collaborates with clients on a new platform, vice president and general manager Brian Joynt says: lack of focus regarding the outcomes they want to produce; data acquisition and formatting; and project scope.
Thus, to avoid mishaps it’s crucial that organizations identify what they want to accomplish with their new platforms before attempting to build them, he says.
“It’s really important to understand that each organization has their own set of priorities,” Joynt says. “For some organizations, prediction is the first thing they want to do. For others that will come later… There’s no one size fits all.”
He’s quick to note that among the firm’s clients, YRP was more cooperative than most, however: “[YRP] was very clear on the outcomes they wanted to drive, and recognized early on that there was no point in implementing a business intelligence tool unless they had conducted at least some integrity work on the data,” he says.
Another effective decision that YRP made was recognizing that business intelligence is not an IT project, Joynt says. Rather than assign their existing IT team to the project, the company created a new internal business intelligence and analytics team.
“IT projects tend to have start dates and end dates, but business intelligence is a continuum,” he says.
Another misstep organizations will often take is building out their entire data library before collaborating with Information Builders on a program, then refuse to adjust their information to accommodate proposed dashboards or ROI measurements, account executive Tara Myshrall says. YRP took the opposite approach.
“From the beginning it was important for them to take an agile approach and secure quick wins on the dashboard side,” she says. “So we’d always prep data in order to get a maximum return on our investment, which led to increased buy-in within the organization and conversations with its various business users and officers about what they wanted to see.”
In fact, according to Betts YRP staff are as excited as disappointed CSI fans by the possibilities offered by the platform.
“Our biggest challenge has been managing expectations,” he says. “Once people see what we’re doing with the information we have… and it’s not only the users on the front line, but also the chief and deputy chiefs, because they see how powerful the tool can be.”
Fortunately, he adds, every time members of the department ask whether they can do X, the Information Builders staff embedded with the department respond with, “Absolutely. If you can dream it, we can build it.”
While neither Information Builders nor YRP could provide IT World Canada with screenshots, the new system is scheduled to be revealed to the public in June.