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Future of police HOLMES system driven by Cabinet Office buying influence

David Bicknell Published 07 November 2014

Investigations and incident management service will be available through a private cloud for the first time


Unisys' announcement this week that 40 police forces are now using the latest version of the HOLMES criminal investigations and incident management system follows Cabinet Office pressure on the Home Office to amend its procurement aims for the programme.

A procurement process for the third iteration of HOLMES (Home Office Large Major Enquiry System) - valued at around £40-£60m - was originally started in September 2012 and subsequently ended in June 2013. Then, an Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) notice said, "As part of the Home Office's internal scrutiny of projects, it has been decided to cease the current procurement exercise for the HOLMES 2 replacement, since the Home Office considers that improved value for money could be delivered through alternative sourcing strategies."

A recent enquiry from Government Computing on the progress towards "alternative sourcing strategies" led to a statement from the Home Office which said, "Responsibility for the procurement of HOLMES 3 was transferred to Police and Crime Commissioners in August 2014. Local policing priorities should be driven by local needs and PCCs and chief constables are best placed to determine what these are."

However, question marks already hang over the future of PCCs. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are not in favour of PCCs, and their future has been further called into question with this week's announcement by George Osborne that Greater Manchester is to have an elected mayor to preside over regional issues. The plans have called into question the role of Greater Manchester's police and crime commissioner (PCC), as responsibility for setting police budgets would be transferred to the elected mayor.

The latest iteration of HOLMES, which includes functions such as GIS mapping and visualisation, is effectively HOLMES 2 version 16, though it is understood that it comprises what Unisys would have included in a HOLMES 3 bid had the September 2012 procurement been allowed to proceed.

HOLMES '3' will be delivered to more than 40 UK police forces via a single browser-based application hosted in a secure Unisys cloud service. According to Unisys, each police force has signed a separate contract to use the new HOLMES solution, with the new contracts representing the first procurement of a national policing system completed using the government's G-Cloud procurement framework and the Digital Marketplace (formally CloudStore). It is the first time HOLMES will be provided through a UK private cloud.

Mike Barton, Chief Constable, Durham Constabulary, said: "The new version of HOLMES will connect UK police forces to provide critical new intelligence sharing functionality that will help us in our efforts to resolve large cases as efficiently as possible. The cost and resourcing benefits we hope to achieve with HOLMES will support our efforts in the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review and the solution's improved functionality will help us to meet the Government Information and Communications Technology strategy of reducing the number of Police systems. Unisys has been a trusted partner of UK policing for many years and this new version of HOLMES is the result of a deep understanding of the requirements needed to perform our role."

Based on the Unisys Law Enforcement Applications Framework (U-LEAF) launched earlier this year, the latest version of the HOLMES application will assist UK police forces to lower the total cost of IT and share intelligence more easily, resulting in more powerful investigation and detection capabilities. HOLMES also includes a less well-known feature, Casualty Bureau.

Casualty Bureau is the initial single point of contact for receiving and assessing information about people believed to be involved in an incident, such as the 7/7 London bombings in 2005 and the Twin Towers attacks in New York in 2001.

The primary aims of the Casualty Bureau are to provide information for the investigation process, trace and identify people involved in an incident, and reconcile missing person records with casualty and survivor/evacuee records.
In line with a trend towards greater involvement of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) it is understood that Unisys also plans to incorporate some relevant SME-built technologies in future updates to HOLMES.
Police force access to HOLMES is made on the basis of a system akin to golf club membership, with a joining fee and annual subscriptions.

As an example of costs, a recent September 2014 procurement request of the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime asked for approval of a business case for HOLMES at a cost of £5.62m and the initiation of procurement action and contract call off under the HOLMES Enterprise Agreement with Unisys for £4.35m.

Kable senior analyst Josh Hewer said, "HOLMES is a key police system, and the lack of ownership of this and similar national systems by central government and PCCs has meant that Unisys and police forces themselves have had to work with the existing agreement to source the features required".

He adds, "Police forces are keen to further develop these national systems - but with no clear direction of funding from central government and political instability over the next 18 months, it is unclear where the resources for this innovation will come from".

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