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Will Cloud Options for Law Enforcement Expand in 2016? (Industry Perspective)

Only 16 percent of law enforcement agencies are using cloud technologies, but new tools and a better understanding of how the cloud can support policing should help increase adoption rates.

Information is the life-blood of policing. Whether in the precinct or on patrol, officers need the most up-to-date information to guide their decision-making. In some situations, accurate and timely intelligence can mean the difference between life and death. 

As budgets decrease, digital technologies are providing police with new, more cost-effective ways to manage investigations and operations. At the same time, agencies are scaling up their use of dash cams and body-worn cameras in response to public demand for improved transparency and accountability in policing.

The growing complexity of crime is also contributing to a shift toward digital tools and strategies. Law enforcement agencies are realizing the value of data analysis to support policing efforts locally, nationally and even across international borders. In London, the Metropolitan Police Service recently applied analytics to identify concentrated networks of gang activity and to predict criminal recidivism.

Data-driven policing is also on the rise within the United States. Late last year, the Seattle Police Department deployed a data analytics platform to support management and governance objectives and leadership decision-making.

While these innovations have tremendous potential to enhance policing efforts, many public safety organizations are quickly reaching the limits of their onsite data management capabilities. But police departments can expand capacity and continue to collect and mine data with cloud technology.

Cloud computing is not just a storage solution. In addition to solving the data management challenges plaguing many police departments, cloud technology can also dramatically improve the way that law enforcement agencies share and analyze data, improving information flow and empowering officers to more efficiently manage multiple aspects of police operations and investigations.

Cloud technology uses the dynamic provisioning of hardware, software or services over a network to increase efficiency, flexibility and scalability, which can also reduce cost over traditional in-house server environments. Cloud services can also facilitate better coordination between law enforcement agencies on a domestic and international scale.

Unfortunately the majority of law enforcement agencies currently rely on outdated, disparate data management systems that keep information in silos, reducing their ability to deliver information and intelligence to officers where and when it's needed. According to an International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) survey, only 16 percent of law enforcement agencies currently leverage the cloud.

So why the reluctance to embrace cloud? Data security is the primary concern. A breach of case data and other public safety information could spell disaster for an investigation or jeopardize the integrity of police operations. But cloud computing solutions can equip IT with better controls to manage and monitor permissions, access, use and data administration, while also providing the highest-level of protection from security threats. 

Cost concerns are also preventing widespread cloud adoption. Many organizations still view investment in cloud technologies as cost-prohibitive, although newer, less expensive cloud solutions are now available. The cloud can help police departments realize cost savings by offering one data-storage system and avoiding the additional cost and complexity of dealing with multiple vendors and siloed data architectures.

While both private and public cloud solutions offer police services many of the same advantages, there are some key differences police departments should consider before moving forward with a particular solution. One such difference is the physical location of technology infrastructure and the control and management of the network, applications and security.

With public cloud, data is hosted and processed off-premises by a third-party provider such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, which controls and maintains the infrastructure, as well as applications and data security, serving multiple organizations as a shared-service. Organizations pay a fee for licensing applications and storage, purchasing the bandwidth they need for scalable, pay-as-you-go flexibility. The public cloud provider is responsible for setting service level capabilities, managing maintenance, and reporting and determining upgrades.   

Private cloud, on the other hand, is a proprietary data platform delivered through cloud infrastructure and dedicated to a single organization. Unlike public cloud, private cloud is implemented within an enterprise firewall and managed on premise, leaving control of data management, technology infrastructure and security protocols in the hands of the organization. 

With private cloud, law enforcement agencies can take autonomous steps to meet specific service requirements, manage upgrade investments and maintain oversight for the security, compliance and monitoring of sensitive data. Likewise, managing data on dedicated cloud infrastructure can help alleviate security concerns around the co-mingling of data on public cloud networks.

In July of 2015, the IACP released a series of updated guidelines for public safety organizations looking to transition some or all of their data management to the cloud. These recommendations provide guidance on what to look for when evaluating different cloud solutions. 

Tech firms in the cloud computing space are working to develop cloud solutions that fit the specific security and regulatory requirements of law enforcement agencies, using IACP guidelines as a framework for their design. These soon-to-be-realized tools will offer superior security for agencies, helping to ease the transition away from in-house data management.

The crime landscape is constantly changing, and law enforcement agencies must evolve their digital capabilities to prepare for the next generation of public safety threats. Data management is key to fighting crime in the digital age, and cloud computing technology provides the framework for success.

By harnessing the cloud, law enforcement agencies will have a flexible data platform where security, compliance and performance can all be configured to meet specific service requirements and more easily upgraded to keep pace in the future. Moving to cloud-based data management solutions can help police agencies manage and store large volumes of sensitive data with more control, better security, and greater flexibility to enhance crime-fighting capabilities – this can only be a good thing for the future. 

Jody Weis is Director of Accenture’s Public Safety business in North America and a retired Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. Twitter: @Jody_Weis