Digital Journey Continues for NSW Police

The NSW Police Force - Australia's oldest and largest police organisation and one of the biggest in the English-speaking world – has been on a quest to move from a hard copy paradigm into digital information management. At Micro Focus Realize 2018, Jeff Greenwood, Manager, Process and Records Services, NSW Police Force, outlined the story so far.

“Information is the key to success for any organisation today and this is particularly the case in the business of policing,” notes Greenwood.

“If we don’t have access to accurate information we can’t fulfil our purpose which is to protect the community of New South Wales.” 

NSW Police has been a TRIM user for many years, recently upgrading to Micro Focus CM9. The user base has grown from about two and a-half thousand users in 2010 to more than 4,000, representing about a fifth of the entire workforce (comprised of more than 16,000 police officers and 4000 admin staff). 

Frontline police don’t generally use the product although a lot of their managerial staff and commanders do.

“The challenge we had in 2010 was that like many organisations who manage their information in hard copy formats, a lot of our information was being mislaid,” said Greenwood. 

“We had manual approval processes and time-consuming processes around archiving of the information, while a lot of our information was stored in unstructured formats of course with an increasing cost of physical storage. 

“So, our objective was to standardise the management of our information and to transition the organisation into managing that information digitally, using appropriate systems. 

“This wasn’t a technology project.  It was actually a cultural change project because we’ve had the capability for managing information digitally for many years, but we had to spend a lot of time bringing the organisation along the journey with us,” said Greenwood.

Rather than looking at a big bang change approach, the IM team at NSW Police worked on different initiatives over the past six and seven years alongside regular business teams.  Aside from a couple of the initiatives, there wasn’t the budget to assign dedicated project teams. 

NSW Police elected to rebrand away from the TRIM product when this was upgraded to version eight a number of years ago. While the TRIM brand is obviously well regarded in the information management community, for the users it had some negative connotations.  They viewed it as just something that admin people did.  It wasn’t something that police officers did. 

So it was rebranded as the Record Management System, or RMS, and work was undertaken to integrate with the NSW Police ERP system, SAP ECC6. 

Integrating the NSW Police location structure with the SAP org structure gave a lot of benefits in terms of applying access controls and access to information, which now largely happens automatically.

“So, as an example, if I’m relieving as my manager next week, I put a higher duties into the system and that automatically flows through so when I’m doing the manager’s role or the director’s role I can get access to all of those information holdings,” said Greenwood. 

“Additionally, we manage the ons and offs to the RMS system automatically through that integration."

Electronic personnel files

"One of the first pieces of work we did, and we got some partners in to help us around that, was around electronic personnel files," said Greenwood.

“Police officers get very emotive about their own personal information, so we spent a lot of time digitising personnel files. The fact that we had automated the location structure really enabled us to control access to that automatically.”

By creating RMS sub-folders, information could be categorised and then security controls and access controls applied automatically to the information within.   

NSW Police initially digitised 25% of the organisation’s hard copy personnel file holdings, although it found that digitisation isn’t necessarily a silver bullet for a lot of older information. 

“For us the return on investment for digitising hard copy information is 30 years.  We’re not going to go back and digitise a lot of our old police investigations but for personnel files, that for us have a very long retention, it made sense.

“A lot of employees, unfortunately, when they leave the organisation tend to sue us.  And so when they’re subpoenaing to get access to their personal information it was of benefit to us to digitise that information. When the information was in hard copy format we were digitising it multiple times in various unstructured data holdings. 

“By digitising it we’re able to always go back to the source of truth and additionally we’ve got audit logs of who’s requested and accessed that information.  Subsequently we have a hundred per cent of our personnel files digitised.”

To encourage business units within the Police Force to manage information digitally, the records management team stopped accepting hard copy information. Business units were encouraged to digitise at the start of the information lifecycle to gain all the benefits of managing that information digitally throughout its lifecycle rather than waiting till the very end and digitising again.

With its software development partner, NSW Police developed a queue processor to apply queues to different SAP business processes.  So, while users are working in SAP, content is stored in CM9.  Also, a ReadSoft workflow and imaging solution has been deployed for accounts payable with the content stored in Content Manager. 

As well as encouraging the digitisation of current workflows, NSW Police has a large task delivering better access to policing information that pre-dates the introduction of the Force’s mainframe (known as COPS!) in the 1980s.

A lot of information from the 70s and 80s that was stored on microfiche has been digitised, although when this was done it was not indexed and OCR was not applied.

A project is underway to apply OCR to this archive and ingest that into CM9 where it will be indexed using the IDOL engine to provide better access. 

NSW Police has a rapid extraction desk where all mail is security scanned and digitised before delivery through document queues to business units at police stations using CM9. 

Email integration

As a long-time Lotus/IBM Notes user, a specific email integration with IBM notes has helped increase the volume of information that’s captured into the content management system. 

“Many users were managing their information in the email archive.  Now the problem for me as an information manager was largely that’s unstructured but more importantly there’s no retention applied in the email system and we tend to keep everything forever.  Everything from the important, from the state archive right through to the ephemeral. The email integration has enabled users to capture emails simply by drag and drop and that’s been a real benefit for us,” said Greenwood. 

“At the moment we’ve got 50 kilometres of hard copy information in storage and that’s growing.  I’d estimate we’ve probably got another 25 kilometres of information out in our business units that I want to bring into central storage. 

“We’re not going to go back and digitise the lot of that.  A lot of the large investigations, if you stacked all of the information on a pallet there’d be one or two pallets of information just for one particular case, so we’re not going to go back and digitise that because it’s just too expensive.

“But there is a growing volume of information in hard copy storage, some of which we’re going to have to keep for long periods of time.  The benefits in having it digital are self-evident.  Once it’s in the content management system information can’t go missing and we’ve got security and access controls, version controls and audit logs.

“In 2010 we captured about a quarter of a million records in the content management system. Last year we captured over a million and this year I estimate we’ll probably capture about 10 million records in the system. 

“Back in 2010 around 11% of our records had digital content attached.  Last year that was almost 98%.  Now this doesn’t stop people printing out and rescanning, or putting new versions in, but at the end of the day if they want to do that they can knock themselves out.  As long as we don’t give us a bit of paper to archive at the end of the process. 

“Some people still like their piece of paper.  A lot of our senior executives still want to stand up in Court and say “Yes, I signed that piece of paper.  Yes, I approved that.”  And that’s okay.  They can do that.  As long as we’re capturing the decision-making digitally at the end. “

Greenwood estimates that the number of RMS users will probably double over the next few years as business processes are brought on board.  

Web Client

Having just upgraded to CM9, NSW Police is now testing the CM Web Client. The full client will still be the go-to choice for most administrative users, while the Web Client will provide senior executive access to information on the go via iPads. 

“We are also starting to work on the client and legal matters structure file type.  This is something that a lot of organisations don’t use but it is a standard functionality in the system and we’re going to develop this and release this for our legal areas,” said Greenwood. 

“We’ll be doing work around additional third-party enhancements and integrations and further work around migrating some of our unstructured data into the system keeping what’s important and getting rid of the unstructured information that’s not important. 

“We’re working on some improved search and discovery capability because one of the challenges for us is we don’t know what information we’ve got.  We’ve got so much information, some of it structured and some of it’s unstructured.  We need to put tools in place organisationally to help us find information. 

“We also want to reduce our physical holdings.  One of the things that we will be doing is implementing a scan on demand type service.  So, when users want to retrieve hard copy information we won’t provide them the hard copy information for the review.  We’ll scan on demand and provide the digital information to them. 

“Another future piece of work is digital transfer to the State Archive. That’s something that we’re talking to the State Archives and Records Authority about at the moment,” said Greenwood.