INCIS: Has it had a bum rap? Not a fair cop, say Police IT staff

Law and order and information technology have proved a volatile mix over the past few years. And there's more to come. A recently announced inquiry into front-line policing is yet another manifestation of the highly political nature of policing. One ogre is thrown up time and time again : what the mainstream press calls the INCIS 'computer'. But are things really as they appear?

Law and order and information technology have proved a volatile mix over the past few years. And there's more to come. A recently announced inquiry into front-line policing is yet another manifestation of the highly political nature of Police.

A shallow prod time and again throws up one ogre: what the mainstream press calls the INCIS "computer", the new computerised integrated national crime information system. Police and politicians both have blamed cost and delays associated with INCIS for seemingly everything which ails the force, from lack of front-line resources to pay disputes.

So what is INCIS and does it deserve its continuing bad press?

Superintendent Tony Crewdson is the INCIS project director. He's been with INCIS since day one. "We've been a convenient scapegoat," he says. "From the beginning we've been blamed for a lot of what's happened in Police. "In reality, there have been no staff cuts to pay for INCIS. It's nothing to do with the pay round, and the increased costs - the project is $20 million over budget - won't kick in till next year."

The initial budget for INCIS was $98 million, which has blown out to $118 million. But $14 million of that is because of changes to the business - Crewdson is very clear that INCIS is a business, not a technological, issue - such as meeting new legislative needs. Six million of the over-run is directly cost related to delays. More of that later, though it's a reasonable observation that a 6% cost over-run is not excessive for a project of this size.

First, the history.

"We really set the path back in the 1970s with the Wanganui computer system," Crewdson says.

"We didn't put enough time or money into it to keep it up to scratch.

"When I was asked to look at whether we should enter into a new project, I looked at the then current Wanganui system and the rest of our computing services and it wasn't close to meeting our needs. Probably it met 30 to 40% of them.

"We went to the world to see if we could buy off the shelf. There was nothing there in 1994 and there's nothing there now that integrates everything."

As project director, Crewdson reports to IT director Jeffrey Soar, who joined Police last year. Soar says he did a lot of due diligence before accepting the job because he had heard all the rumours. "I kept thinking there should be a rat somewhere but I couldn't find it."

Crewdson also reports to deputy commissioner Barry Matthews, who is the business sponsor. The three consult on all major decisions. As Crewdson observes, every decision has a broader impact across police and other projects. "The reason the IT sector has poorly served Police and Justice is that Police is just a single customer in the market," Soar says. "One of the strengths, though, is the clear ownership of IT by Police."

After it was decided that new systems were needed, a business case was taken to the government. Getting police to the front line was the fundamental justification.

"After we got approval we decided to involve operational staff," Crewdson says. "We said: 'it's your system so you take ownership'. Hundreds of staff and focus groups were involved."

What came out of that were a series of views that had to be developed into a set of requirements. These have been reviewed independently several times from late 1995 onwards. "We've been told they are world class," Crewdson says.

This is, however, where the delays began. "IBM [the prime vendor] said the goalposts had changed and that they wanted to be paid extra because of that. We said the changes could be inferred.

"We both decided to bring in Logica and that we should pay extra where it was decided something couldn't be inferred.

"Logica found that 70% of the requirements were within the original scope. We looked at the other 30% to decide if we really needed them."

At the same time, then IT director Greg Batchelor decided to exercise a technology substitution clause and introduce Windows NT on the desktop, rather than the original end-to-end OS/2 solution.

"IBM came back and said we'd caused delays and that they wanted compensation," Crewdson says.

It was a bitter battle, with sides being drawn within Police, as well as snipe and counter snipe between IBM and Microsoft. Computerworld took several telephone calls from police officers in both camps at the time.

Rumours abounded of kickbacks and scurrilous behaviour.

Crewdson denies any illegalities but says the situation was not something to be proud of "for all parties".

Police then went into a year of negotiation with IBM "to make sure they honoured the contract". He says IBM didn't have the right skills, particularly in terms of application development, which was the key risk area.

Soar says the biggest chunk of the dollars was spent in communications, desktops, office automation and things like Lotus Notes - the tangibles. "Application development is the smallest chunk but the highest risk in terms of the potential to blow out by tens of millions of dollars."

A revised contract was entered into late last year.

Currently, more than 3100 workstations and laptops are being rolled out across the country. This is due to be completed mid-year. Other parts of the system to be rolled out in the same time frame are a GIS application, Notes and the online library.

INCIS itself is essentially a suite of integrated applications. These have been split into three for the continuing rollout.

In the third quarter, a replacement national intelligence system will be introduced. The "incidents" part of the Wanganui system will be rolled out in the first quarter of 1999, and mid-1999 the "offences" part of the Wanganui system.

"We hope to have the traffic applications all off Wanganui by mid-1999 also," Crewdson says.

The idea behind INCIS is to eliminate needless form-filling in the field and to bring intelligent analytical tools to bear both at the front line and back office.

Currently, if a police officer is investigating a burglary there are as many as 20 forms to fill in, much of it repetitive information such as names and addresses. The idea is that the policeman should input the data directly on to a laptop.

Some stations have never had terminal links to the Wanganui computer. To get information residing at Wanganui, the officer might have had to drive 50km to a station with access. That will all be a thing of the past.

Something that is expected to make a big impact is the GIS front end. Police are negotiating with ESRI, which provides Arc Info, and Crewdson gives the impression that, subject to price, that will be the way they will go. "They've got some innovative ideas. They've got a US Federal grant to look at crime analysis and are developing, along with the University of New York, a predictive analysis tool for likely future crime.

"We're part of an international police group linked with that team, and we can leverage some heavy-duty research."

Soar says much of the money spent on the Cold War has been redirected in the US to fighting crime. There are 18 agencies - including New Zealand Police - working with the US National Institute of Justice.

The GIS front end also offers displacement analysis: that is, if an area subject to, say, high rates of burglary is targeted, where will the burglars go next?

"Occurrence" information is captured from all Police's systems and will be analysed for trends, patterns and clusters. There are 30 analyst workstations and there will probably be 120 analytical staff when the project is completed.

At the local police station a one-button "can query" option will be provided on the workstation so the intelligence is available in the field.

"It's all headed to the front line," Crewdson says. "We're also looking at movement analysis such as 'what's the potential travel or movement of a person or vehicle?', and link analysis that links event to event, associatons to attributes and the like."

Those plans have the support of the Privacy Commissioner, who will have audit rights across the system.

Asked to describe INCIS in one sentence, Crewdson says: "INCIS is an integrated suite of applications, a front-line policing tool that enables cops to enter, retrieve and analyse information."

Technically, the system uses a large DB2 database, with OS/2 servers and NT on the desktop. There is an MVS mainframe.

Crewdson says there is a requirement for IBM to port the application.

"We don't want to be tied into any proprietary software."

There are several other IT projects due to be rolled out this year. They include:

• Contributing to the Justice sector information management strategies - a data dictionary model developed for INCIS has been gifted to Justice.

• Co-location in communication centres with the Fire Service and sharing of the technology environment. That's expected to go live in about six weeks, firstly in Christchurch.

• Managing year 2000 risks. Some of the systems are 25 years old and will have to be replaced, including financials. Negotiations on "future-proofing" are currently taking place with vendors.

• Providing secure radio communications. That also relates to supporting Police requirements for the America's Cup and APEC meeting in Auckland.

• Implementing and maintaining the technology environment for the CARD nation-wide cutover (due in June). CARD (communications and resource deployment) handles emergency and other calls requiring a police response, from three communications centres, in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. It's a Windows-based system, which Soar says was brought in on time and within budget ($10 million) and is technologically working as it should. Eventually, CARD will be integrated with INCIS.

• Introduction of an automated fingerprint information system (AFIS). The current system is not year 2000-compliant. Finger-printing is key to the Police.

Last December a human resources system was implemented, and more recently payroll. Both were supplied by PeopleSoft.

Soar says the annual IT operational budget is around $20 million.

Part of the original rationale for INCIS was an estimated saving per annum of 1.9 million working hours. "We know enough now to say with a fair bit of certainty that we will achieve that," Crewdson says. That will represent an 11% increase in productivity.

Internationally, he says, other police forces are keeping a close eye on the INCIS development.

"There's a real market out there for us."

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