“There are not many places that have to have their systems available 24 x 7, 365 days a year. A large component of our strategy is keeping that system going.” This is how Lyn Provost describes the distinct challenges of IS management at the New Zealand Police.
Five years ago, Provost became deputy police commissioner for resource management, which includes information technology.
She is the first woman as well as the first non-sworn police officer to be appointed a deputy commissioner at the Police. She recalls her family and friends were initially surprised when she accepted the role because it was “different”. She was acting chief executive of Archives New Zealand at that time and had already spent more than 20 years in executive positions in the public sector.
But, as she explains, being Police deputy commissioner is “more of a strategic and governance, rather than a hands-on role”.
“I try to go out to meet staff, members of the community, meet local mayors, local partners. I think it is important for us to understand what interests people, what concerns them, to go out there and to spend some time in police stations and listen to what people are saying to you, what they need and what direction we should be going in.”
She has, for instance, visited all three call centres of the Police. The longest time was spent at the call centre in Christchurch – a total of six hours which encompassed the night shift.
It was absolutely critical, she explains, for her to see first-hand what is going on in these communication centres, which are often the first point of contact of the people with the police. “When people ring us they want somebody who is going to reassure them that something will be done and something can be done.”
She adds, “I have nothing but admiration for those people answering those phones and how they deal with people very professionally.”
She describes the technology at the call centres as “stunningly good”. A caller can state which street he or she is in, and the staff can check whether it is near certain landmarks to verify the exact location.
Provost says the Police has been showing this system to the public during field days. “We say to people give us an address and we show them what we can see and people say, that’s my house, that’s my shed.”
ICT and police operations
Technology, she points out, plays a major role in supporting Police operations. To this end, the Police has recently completed its Information, Communications and Technology Strategic Plan for the next five years.
This plan was finalised with inputs from people in the frontline offices. “We asked them, ‘What is going to make your job easier? What is going to help you?’”
She says the ICT staff worked with field staff in this research. “It took us about 18 months to put together a strategy because we also talked to all of our key technology partners about what was possible in terms of technology. There is no point in saying I will do this if it is not technologically possible.”
After these discussions, the Police then listed the top 10 priorities in the strategy. All of these, she says, “are around making our job easier for our people out there on the street”.
Provost says one of the initiatives is putting computers in cars, which is already being rolled out in certain parts of Auckland.
There is also a live scan that will do away with ink when getting fingerprints. “It looks like a bank ATM machine. You put your fingers on the screen and it identifies you from there. It is very smart technology.” Provost says the police station that will be the initial site for this machine will be ready in a few months.
She says two projects?–?the e-query and automated vehicle location?–?are all part of the mobility strategy.
Police, as the plan explains, are a mobile workforce and require real-time access to all police systems whether they are in a police site, a police vehicle or even from home.
The mobility initiatives aim to provide access in a secure way while protecting the integrity of information.
Under the current system, for instance, when a car is stopped on the side of the road, the officer will ask for the driver’s licence. The officer goes back to the police car to send a query to the communications centre. The query goes through the computer system, then to radio, into the communications centre and go back on the radio.
Under the new system, the police will type in the data like registration number in the computer in the police car and the information will come back immediately. “It is efficient and quick”. The car as a police station and e-query will be rolled out in the next few months.
Another major project is the piloting of a single non-emergency number, either a 311 or 0-800-based service, for the community to contact the police regarding non-urgent incidents but which require police action. These alternative channels aim to ensure the 111 priority service is focused on emergency calls. At the moment, the police estimates 65 per cent of calls into the centres are non-emergency.
Another initiative that is already in pilot stage is the automated vehicle location and GPS for police vehicles. The information on the location of resources will be displayed to communications centre operators and other staff who need to know the location of resources. The Police says this will increase officer safety, improve deployment of resource and confirm adherence to the vehicle pursuit policy.
A flexible plan
Provost says a major differentiator in the current ICT plan is its flexibility. It is, for one, not an “absolute” list of things the Police is going to do for the next five years. As the Police works on the priority projects, and a “very smart piece of technology comes in”, this would be substituted for some of the projects down the list.
Provost says this is the first time the Police adopted this type of “dynamic planning”.
The last ICT plan of the Police stated which projects will be completed in the next five years. At that time, she says, that approach was useful. “But now things are moving much more quickly and we need to be more dynamic and flexible.”
She foresees some challenges in implementing the ICT plan.
“Some of the big challenges are actually not around technology but around the processes around the technology and improving those across the 390 stations and 10,000 staff and the training of staff to use the new systems.
“I would say a third of any of any of our projects is technology, a third is process a third is training. It is across process and training part that I see a real challenge of this strategy.”
She says the Police manages this by ensuring project planning is built into each element. “What and how do we fit this into our training calendar and what processes do we need? It is something we are working on to improve particularly around the processes.”
Confidence in her team
She does not find the work at Police a detour from her past positions. “Interestingly, I have done as much technology as I have done accounting in my career,” she says. “Computers and technology have been a large part of my career.”
She keeps in touch with industry developments by talking to staff and key industry partners. She also attends conferences and lunchtime seminars, “but not as often as I would have in the past because I have a very wide portfolio”.
She tries whenever she can, to attend these gatherings and to give presentations. “I think it is actually important to show what is happening at the NZ Police, but also people that are across the diversity of New Zealand can do different things. I guess I am an example of that.”
Asked to describe her management style, Provost pauses briefly. “I am very much into, you need to know the strategy, and you need to know where you are going.”
She is, by her own description, a “very hands off” manager. “I have lots of very talented people to do things,” she explains. “I am confident in my team and my people to do it. But I always ensure that I have important processes, that I know what is happening, that I have good advisers around me.”
She has monthly or bi-monthly meetings with her advisers and they discuss events within the Police and outside. “I need an insight into what is happening rather than detailed knowledge. The people in ICT have that knowledge and I trust that knowledge.”
Her IT advisory group is composed of internal people, the ICT managers (Rohan Mendis, Ian Smith and Paul MacNab) and two external people. The latter is composed of a representative from the Ministry of Justice and the other is “an independent consultant with a lot of IT experience”.
But working in an organisation like the Police means she will have a work schedule atypical of her counterparts in other organisations?–?whether state or the private sector.
“The reality of Police is it is not any kind of a Monday to Friday job. A fairly normal week would be I am here by 7 am most days.” She attends one or two functions in an evening most weeks and travels between one and three days a week out of Wellington.
“There are weekends when emergencies happen and that is reality,” she states. “I tend to work Sunday nights just to prepare myself for the week.”
She always has her PDA with her. “The telephone has my diary on it. But we don’t have email on them so that helps,” she laughs. “But I do carry it and the reality is I have to be accessible so it is on, it is there. I know where it is at any point in time.”
She has a property near a beach and finds walking near the water extremely relaxing. Provost has two teenaged children aged 16 and 18. “I have spent the last 10 years watching various sports as one does as a parent.”
She describes herself as an “avid reader” but prefers non-fiction books. And most likely, the book she is reading will not be a management tome.
There has been an “enormous number” of significant experiences in her career. Upon further reflection, she says one of these is turning off the Wanganui Computer.
“That would probably be the most outstanding single event in the ICT area,” she says of the Law Enforcement System that was decommissioned after 30 years. “It was a fine old lady.”
She says working in an organisation like the Police entails a high level of commitment. “Absolutely,” she says in her soft voice. “People are here because they really, really want to. They want to work with people and for people. That is hugely motivating.”
As for lessons learned as a public sector executive, she states, “Know which direction you want to go in, manage the risks, don’t avoid them. Respect your staff.”
“Don’t forget the community and the public that we serve.”
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