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Cloud wins clean rap sheet from Western Australia Police as it arrests tech lag

When Andrew Cann was stationed as a policeman in Moora in the 1990s, Friday nights could get a little lively in the country town 180Km north of Perth in Western Australia’s wheatbelt.

If he and his partner were called to a pub brawl they were on their own; backup could be up to an hour away and contacting the Officer in Charge was difficult.

Cann’s 21 years as a police officer have given him a unique perspective now that he’s the Chief Information Officer for Western Australia Police (WAPol).

While Cann has had several other roles before returning to WAPol those decades as a blue shirt gave him a deep understanding of what front line officers need – when and how.

Since he was appointed CIO, Cann has overseen the ongoing digital transformation of WAPol, working with Microsoft partner Kinetic IT on the first phase of the program.

WAPol has deployed body worn cameras, begun its cloud migration and service transformation, and latterly, rolled out smartphones and specially developed apps that keep police connected, supported and secure.

When he took up the CIO role two years ago WAPol was, Cann says; “Probably the least advanced police service in the country in terms of digital capability. IT felt they weren’t being listened to by the business and there wasn’t a lot of trust in IT from the business.”

There was a lot of catching up to do and bridges to mend. Too many bespoke legacy platforms that weren’t integrated and poor network communications connecting police stations around the State meant that even simple training sessions that should take 20 minutes online could stretch out for hours.

“My perspective when I came on board was, ‘I’ll tell the Commissioner that we will be the most advanced digital police force in Australia within five years’,” says Cann. That gave everyone an ambitious goal and effectively, permission to succeed.

Achieving that requires not just technology upgrades, but a cultural reformation to ensure that end users develop trust in the technology available to them and WAPol’s IT team.

One of the first successes was the $20 million rollout of body-worn video cameras that had been discussed at WAPol. This was achieved in partnership with Axon, a Microsoft partner which built its evidence.com platform on Azure. WAPol is the world’s largest user of Axon Citizen, which allows video from members of the public to be loaded directly to Evidence.com cloud storage, streamlining access to that video for investigating officers.

WAPol’s next major project saw it deploy smartphones – ultimately for 6,500 police officers – providing them with the instant ability to contact colleagues or supervisors and to provide officers with anywhere anytime access to specially developed apps to deliver fresh insights, streamline workflow and improve situational awareness. Using Microsoft InTune to manage and secure the devices it was possible to roll out smartphones to every officer and allow them to be used for both personal and professional requirements ensuring widespread uptake.

To encourage the uptake of the devices WAPol makes the phone available for officers’ personal and professional use, though it blacklists the use of apps it considers dangerous.

Developed with technology partner, Modis, Microsoft Azure enabled applications such as One Force Locate, providing situational awareness that simply wasn’t possible in the past.

Acting Inspector Darren Henstock is the Innovation and Future Lead for WAPol’s Digital Policing Program. He hails from the UK where he also worked as a police officer for 20 years. Like Cann, he believes WAPol was lagging other police forces in terms of its adoption of technology – but says this is no longer the case.

Henstock’s extensive experience rolling out body worn video in the UK as well as his published evidence-based research led to his appointment to lead the body worn camera project in WA.

He says that the digital transformation at WAPol is continuing apace with One Force Locate; “Locate has gone from strength to strength. Previously we’ve never been able to see where an officer is, only the vehicle. But a lot of our officers don’t use vehicles, they could be on foot, pedal cycles, or ride horses, so we could never see them.

“We created the app in six weeks, supported by Modis and using Microsoft as the platform. Locate has now become a Class One system that people are relying on to manage things like Australia Day, emergency incidents, and large public events. Officers can now see where their colleagues are and communicate directly, this means they can operate with significantly more confidence and cooperation.

“The app allows video calling and messaging but we are now seeking to also link the Teams platform into it to provide even more capacity for communication, collaboration and situational awareness. We’ve had some pretty good success stories of officers using that to manage incidents, to find missing people, and to support lone officers.”

Everyone now has access to the function, and at least 500 people a day make use of it. WAPol is now working on extra functionality that will let officers see who is needed where, or who may be at risk so that they can take instant informed action.

The digital transformation at WAPol is continuing apace with One Force Locate.

Locate has gone from strength to strength. Previously we’ve never been able to see where an officer is, only the vehicle. But a lot of our officers don’t use vehicles, they could be on foot, pedal cycles, or ride horses, so we could never see them. We created the app in six weeks, supported by Modis and using Microsoft as the platform. Locate has now become a Class One system that people are relying on to manage things like Australia Day, emergency incidents, and large public events. Officers can now see where their colleagues are and communicate directly, this means they can operate with significantly more confidence and cooperation. – Acting Inspector Darren Henstock, Innovation and Future Lead for WAPol’s Digital Policing Program

Rapid impact

One Force Locate is one example of the sort of impact that WAPol IT can have as it modernises the organisation’s digital foundations. Cann explains that migrating emails to Office 365 and managing identity using Azure Active Directory allows WAPol to be agile, flexible, scalable and to deploy new solutions rapidly.

Recently this has included specially developed Power App solutions for licensing and registration of pawnbrokers and second hand dealers.

But the starkest evidence of the importance of WAPol’s newly agile approach emerged when COVID-19 struck. Working again with Modis, the organisation developed a PowerApp solution in a fortnight that was deployed to police officers to help them manage and control WA’s borders which were closed by the WA State Government to limit the spread of the virus from other States and Territories.

Developed using Azure DevOps , the solution was delivered to police officers’ phones using Azure Mobile Services.

Western Australia was quick to get the spread of COVID-19 under control. According to Cann; “Obviously we in IT can’t take credit for the low numbers of COVID in WA, but the ability for us to set up the enabling technology that they required in a really short space of time, that then allowed us to coordinate the response as a State, definitely played a part in Western Australia’s success to date.

“It’s a lot of people on the ground doing the legwork, but I’m really proud of the efforts of our IT people who provided the technology that allowed them to get on with it really, really quickly, and get the response organised, planned, and underway. Even to the point where they’re doing quarantine checks via our enabling technologies.

“They’re using Microsoft Forms. So, when they go and knock on a door, they verify that the person is home, as they’re meant to be. Then they just submit it to a Microsoft Form, that then goes through the workflow process and gets dumped in a centralised PowerApps application. So, they can see that it’s been done, when it’s been done. That would normally be a cumbersome, manual process. The best part is it was built in conjunction with the business unit in record time using the underlying enabling technology.

“That technology streamlines everything and makes the WA Police response a lot more agile, flexible and responsive. It’s hard to quantify how valuable it’s been, but I think it definitely has played a part.”

Obviously we in IT can’t take credit for the low numbers of COVID-19 in WA, but the ability for us to set up the enabling technology that they required in a really short space of time, that then allowed us to coordinate the response as a State, definitely played a part in Western Australia’s success to date. – Andrew Cann, CIO, WAPol

Clear connections

Microsoft cloud services, and particularly Teams also played an important role in the rapid establishment of WA’s State Pandemic Coordination Centre (SPCC) which has Darren Henstock also acting as IT and logistics lead.

“Setting up the State Pandemic Coordination Centre, I had a few days’ notice of the cross jurisdictional management structure required to support the State Emergency Coordinator who advised the Premier. Teams was the natural product to deliver a single, unifying collaborative tool accessible from any device to deliver required products and communication. Without it we would have taken weeks to embed staff and collaboration would have been extremely difficult during that time based solely on email. Arriving team members were on boarded in less than an hour of arrival, quickly allowing them to access information and contribute their skills to the team immediately outside of their own agency network.

“The support from Microsoft throughout our delivery of Teams and the O365 productivity suite has been significant. Prior to the pandemic issues I had already created a strong working relationship with the local Microsoft team and we had begun to create a number of use cases we were getting ready to deploy and support. The anticipation of the need created by the pandemic for a capable platform to allow officers and staff to work remotely allowed us to move very quickly removing a number of barriers.

“Microsoft offered significant expertise to tailor settings to ensure an optimum balance of security and user capability, alongside providing a script within a few days that allowed us to create a team structure and allocate officers to those teams within two days. The ability to reach out to Microsoft and obtain an answer to an issue has been outstanding and a clear factor in our successful and rapid deployment.”

The role of the SPCC is to coordinate across all state agencies to deliver support to the State Emergency Coordinator, who happens to also be the Commissioner of Police, in order that he can effectively advise the Premier during the COVID response.

According to Henstock; “What has been useful to WAPol is that my team delivering IT and Logistics has learned significantly about the use and issues with Teams and Office 365, this we are taking back to WApol to inform our plans to fully embed the capability over the coming months. It has also allowed us to lead the other agencies into a collaborative space as we break down barriers to communication. Our ultimate goal is to bring about simple cross agency communication using Teams.”

The SPCC has also deployed two Surface Hubs, which along with Power BI are used to share information, and is using Dynamics 365 providing knowledge management capabilities to support the 13COVID contact centre.

According to Henstock, the rapid progress with the SPCC has garnered significant attention across the public sector. “Defence have a few senior officers deployed in the SPCC and they are looking over my shoulder and saying ‘Why haven’t we got that? This is what we want, this is how we should manage collaboration.”

Andrew Cann believes and has demonstrated, that there is no clear reason why they can’t have something similar – and fast.

Having already established the Azure foundations which included an ExpressRoute connection for WAPol into Azure, implemented Azure Active Directory and completed most of the email migration to Office 365 before COVID-19 struck, Cann explains that the rollout of Teams was achieved very rapidly.

“They achieved it within about 24 hours, which is incredible. Normally you’d do a six-month training program with users on how to use stuff like this. But we find it’s relatively intuitive. So, we didn’t really have to put much information out there. We found people were just jumping straight into it.

“I’ve had emails come in from people across WAPol letting me know how much they like what we’ve rolled out. One Officer in Charge wrote ‘It’s made communicating with my bosses and staff so easy and reassuring’. This validates for me that we’re moving on well from where we were when I was a copper in the 1990s.”

In WAPol’s IT team Cann is seeing people create chats in Teams to resolve Priority One issues rapidly because they can collaborate in a single chat to problem solve, sharing screen shots and so forth. “The time to restore recently is very low compared to prior to Teams. That’s a nice benefit I hadn’t considered.

“The only problem now is the organisation thinks I can roll out a complex bit of enterprise software within about two weeks of anything happening. So, I’ve got to do some expectation management now.”

WAPol’s cloud-based applications are hosted on the secure Canberra-based Azure cloud which has been designed to meet the requirements of Government and National Critical Infrastructure. During the pandemic, Microsoft focused on prioritising access to available cloud resources for first responder agencies such as WAPol to ensure they could operate without interruption.

Staying secure

Henstock says that WAPol rolled out Azure Virtual Desktops within seven days that allows up to 2,000 simultaneous connections. It had also already deployed multifactor authentication capability to ensure secure remote access to systems.

People working from home used that to access Office.com and anyone who needed access to other WAPol systems used the Windows Virtual Desktop.

WAPol’s cloud-based applications are hosted on the secure Canberra-based Azure cloud which has been designed to meet the requirements of Government and National Critical Infrastructure. During the pandemic, Microsoft focused on prioritising access to available cloud resources for first responder agencies such as WAPol to ensure they could operate without interruption.

Cann says that because most of the WA Government now has Teams deployed there are significant time savings and productivity benefits with meetings held online rather than face to face.

Office 365 and Teams meanwhile streamlines Cann’s own workflow. “My EA can drop any document I need to sign in a folder in there and I can navigate to it. I have not physically signed a piece of paper in eight weeks.

“It’s been a Godsend. And the Deputy Commissioner’s on to it and he’s told everyone that is the only way he will sign documents from now on. So, you wouldn’t believe the amount that has increased the productivity of my office alone, let alone the Deputy Commissioner’s office.”

The last few months have proven an acid test of the power and capability of cloud, and it passed with flying colours. Cann is now looking to migrate more applications off WAPol’s on- premises environment and into the cloud. Henstock meanwhile is exploring how best to maximise the use of Teams and O365 applications for officers in their daily roles, minimising the time they need to spend in the station.

A key ally in the migration to the cloud has been the security and trust of Microsoft Azure and the array of security services that is available, such as multi-factor authentication and InTune for secure mobile device management.

Police officers use facial recognition to access their smartphones which is integrated to Active Directory to ensure they have instant access to all the applications they need. It’s yet another important feature of WAPol’s strategy to keep all Western Australians safe and sound.

Cann concludes; “WA Police IT really rose to the challenge to get all this done. They embraced the challenge of being the most advanced digital police force in Australia and if we haven’t already achieved that we will soon – I’ll argue with my East Coast counterparts about that next time we catch up.

“The change in culture here has been very rewarding to be part of, watching everyone embrace change whilst enabling and empowering them to make decisions with the agency, has encouraged them to innovate and explore possibilities. The ability to listen to the business needs and respond rapidly has gained us back the trust of the agency. The technology they deploy that is available from Microsoft has given them the ability to act on their great ideas.”