A revamped data warehouse is helping Victoria Police to reduce crime rates and has delivered AU$2 million in productivity benefits, despite a lack of initial budget planning which threatened to derail the project early on.
VicOPS, which has been in operation for two years, helps enable a series of dashboards which allow senior police to identify trouble areas and develop crime prevention strategies.
"It has been instrumental in providing some serious business outcomes," Brian Rowlands, project manager for VicOPS, said during a presentation at the Gartner Government Summit on the Gold Coast this week. "We've contributed to a strategic outcome known as intelligence-led policing."
However, reaching that goal has not been easy. "Data warehousing projects always have their challenges and VicOPS is no exception," Rowlands said. "Like most organisations Victoria Police is data rich and information poor."
Before VicOPS, operational information was spread across mainframes, database systems and Excel spreadsheets maintained by individuals. "There was a critical need to replace this ad hoc environment with a more robust, scalable and intuitive BI environment," Rowlands said.
Planning for the project began in 2003, using a simplified version of the COMPSTAT model originally developed in New York to handle that city's police IT systems.
Ensuring long-term scalability was a major aim. The initial VicOPS project had to integrate seven systems, but in the long term 37 separate data sources will need to be incorporated.
Rowlands emphasised that writing the tender documents correctly was critical.
"A lot of emphasis within the tender was on driving accountability for the outsourced IT piece," he said. "By getting the tender right and by specifying that you need industry-strength products, you can actually eliminate a lot of risk."
The job of developing VicOPS went to Oakton, using Cognos as the main BI platform and Informatica for ETL.
Another critical step was performing a data quality audit on the existing systems. While no showstopper problems were identified, "we had issues with every one", Rowlands said.
Kicking budget problems
Convincing police to use the system required careful planning. "The audience is very evidence based. Coppers need a lot of convincing. The attitude is 'Show me the system so I can kick it to death, and then I'll believe you'."
But the biggest initial challenge for Rowlands, who began work on VicOPS just after the tender documents went out to market, was financial.
"It wasn't very long before I realised that the project was totally underfunded. That's not unusual in government. The challenge became to cut the project down into a couple of phases we could deliver on and then haggle for the rest of the money."
A key difficulty was that the original business case had underestimated the complexity of the task, didn't easily allow for dividing the project into separate stages, and lacked a full appreciation of the technologies involved.
"Historically, we've not done a great job of the business case. Make sure you've got people writing that business case who understand the full system development lifecycle and the costs involved. You cannot run a data warehouse effectively on 10 percent capital."
The first two project stages were eventually delivered for around AU$5 million, "which is lightweight for a data warehouse servicing a huge organisation like Victoria Police", Rowlands said.
Data warehousing requires an attitude shift, he suggested. "There's a tendency to treat the data warehouse as just another generic application, which it's not. It's an evolutionary project which needs to move as the business approach and business dynamics change."
"A lot of data warehouse projects fail because people try to boil the ocean. I'm a great believer in breaking things down into manageable chunks."
The crime and human resources components of VicOPS went live in October 2006, followed by traffic in April 2007. The system now has 1,000 users over five policing regions. "We're still haggling about the money we didn't get at the initial outset for stage 3," Rowlands said.
The return on investment to date has been substantial. "We've identified significant productivity benefits in the region of $2 million," Rowlands said, while a one percent reduction in crime, attributed to the system, is estimated to have saved the community $10 million.
VicOPS is part of an overall AU$100 million dollar revamp of police IT in Victoria, with other projects looking at improved forensics and facial recognition.
"The police are getting serious about IT," Rowland said.