EPISODE #23: How Automation Digitally Transformed British Law Enforcement
The haggard lawyer toting a disheveled box full of paper evidence, before plunking it down on a cluttered desk to carefully examine its contents is a familiar trope employed by many a fictional TV crime series. In real life though, automation, chatbots, and other technologies are rapidly relegating that stereotype into an anachronism. In this regard, perhaps no law enforcement agency in the world has undergone a more radical digital transformation than Crown Prosecution Services, the agency responsible for conducting all criminal prosecutions in England & Wales.
Mark Gray is the man leading that digital transformation, and of the many metrics that can be used to measure what he’s accomplished in a relatively short span, one stands out as nothing short of astonishing — the elimination of 160 million pages of paper annually! Mark talks with us about other impacts automation has had on his agency, including accelerating the justice process, ensuring evidence doesn’t fall through the cracks, and fundamentally changing how people perform their jobs with a greater sense of satisfaction.
Guy Nadivi: Welcome everyone. My name is Guy Nadivi and I’m the host of Intelligent Automation Radio. Our guest on today’s episode is Mark Gray, Digital Transformation Director for Crown Prosecution Service. The principal public prosecuting agency for conducting criminal prosecutions in England and Wales. We’ve never spoken before with anyone who’s implemented digital transformation in law enforcement. And when you hear about what Mark and his team did, you’ll see it was an epic transformation for any kind of organization. We wanted to find out more about it ourselves and see what lessons our audience could learn from Mark’s experience, so we invited him to come on our show and share his considerable insights with us. Mark, welcome to Intelligent Automation Radio.
Mark Gray: Thanks very much Guy. Hi, everyone. Delighted to be here.
Guy Nadivi: Mark, you rolled out a number of digital transformation projects for law enforcement, allowing your agency to eliminate, this is an amazing number, 160 million pages of paper annually, which is just staggering. Not just that, it also eliminated physical disks too, which is impressive. If this was a corporate project, it’s benefits would have been measured in ROI. How do you measure the benefits of your efforts from a law enforcement perspective?
Mark Gray: It’s a good question. So undoubtedly we do track the kind of public sector equivalent metric of ROI. So, of course we have generated some direct cash efficiency savings in paper, in couriers, and so on. But I guess for us it’s the wider benefits that are more important.
Mark Gray: So we made the justice process swifter, for example, people don’t have to wait a couple of days for a disc to arrive. We’ve improved the information security because less things go astray in a digital world. We’ve improved the satisfaction and the experience for our own colleagues. So for instance, the move to digital has enabled people to work much more flexibly rather than being kind of required to come into an office. And of course as the a…there’s the significant environmental benefits of the changes we’ve made. So there is absolutely an ROI element, but it’s that kind of wider spectrum that we’re really pleased with and proud of.
Guy Nadivi: Automation, AI, and chat bots all play a role in your digital transformation. Can you talk a bit about some of the ways those technologies will be used going forward?
Mark Gray: Yeah, sure. I think we spent a lot of time over the past three years or so, putting the basics in play. Removing a lot of challenges of kind of the legacy systems of the past, and kind of future-proofing everything. That enables the kind of technologies that you’ve just referred to really add value. So with regard to automation, we’re looking at taking some of the kind of manual processes that our colleagues do on a day to day basis and automating those.
Mark Gray: So, an example might be when police send us a piece of evidence into the Prosecution Service or a new case, they flag whether the suspect in question is expected to plead guilty or not guilty to the charge. Now of course we never know for sure what they’re likely to do, but that informs the kind of the extent, the path down which it goes. They’re listed in different courts depending on that. And, similarly, as you would expect, the level of kind of preparation for the first hearing is different if you’re expecting a Not Guilty plea compared to a Guilty plea.
Mark Gray: And so one of the processes that we go through therefore is a crosschecking process that says which box has the police officers ticked, is that kind of consistent with where the court have listed this case? And also with the evidence that’s actually presented. Does the statement from the defendant kind of corroborate that? That is a very manual process, and one that could be relatively easily undertaken by a kind of robotic process. So we’re looking at things like that. With regard to chat bots. I think we think those will be primarily colleague-facing. So providing our users with better self-service options around the technology-related issues, queries, ideas.
Mark Gray: And with regard to artificial intelligence, one of the big changes and challenges that’s occurred in law enforcement over recent years is the enormous proliferation of digital evidence. So if there’s a crime or an alleged crime now, it’s likely that there’s closed circuit television of it. It’s likely that any witnesses may well have taken out their cell phone and recorded the footage of that. It’s likely that there’s social media interactions involving the participants. None of these were around kind of 5, 10 years ago.
Mark Gray: And so the volumes of data are just have just increased exponentially. And so actually where we see AI playing a role is in helping both the police officers, and the investigators, but also our prosecuting lawyers to kind of wade through those volumes of digital evidence, and to kind of assist their review. We don’t think that criminal justice is a space where it would be right certainly in the foreseeable future, for kind of technology to take the place of the reviewing lawyer. But we think that there’s a good opportunity there to make those people’s lives easier, which in turn should improve the quality of outcomes flowing through the justice system.
Guy Nadivi: And yet I imagine there was a lot of resistance to change at Crown Prosecution Service, with some entrenched mindsets advocating for maintaining the status quo of paper. How did you overcome psychological and cultural impedance to your efforts?
Mark Gray: It’s a good question. I think the key thing has been trying to show people the benefits. And I mean that on a really kind of day-to-day granular level. It’s a benefit that you no longer need to, you don’t need to get in a taxi or bring your car to go to do the 5-minute walk from the office to the court. Because actually you, you don’t need to carry four boxes of paper anymore. It’s a big benefit that through this process we’ve also, we’ve moved away from the local IT servers into kind of centralized, resilient platforms. Showcasing the times when actually one of our offices right now has experienced a flood. And the business impact of that three or four years ago would have been astronomical because there had been no functioning technology for that office. And no ability to access the paper for several weeks on end. Now it’s almost a non-event from a business continuity perspective.
Mark Gray: I think another thing to change this mindset is kind of is really, really listening to users. So kind of collaborative design. We built a network of digital champions across the country. So people are kind of hearing about these changes, not from me and my team who might be perceived to be in the kind of, in the proverbial ivory tower. But actually from their peers and colleagues who are genuinely experiencing the same things. I think that’s been really impactful. Another element about listening is kind of making sure we fixed the things that might be small technologically, but really annoying for users.
Mark Gray: So I’ll give you one example, if I may. Which is, when I arrived here, our remote access service was configured to timeout after 4 hours for security reasons. But of course, if you’re a prosecutor at court, you typically get there at 8:30 in the morning to prepare for the day’s hearings. And the morning session of court runs till one o’clock. So of course four hours — an incredibly annoying time out, because it’s right in the period where you’re standing up in court presenting your case. Little things like that. The technology change required to find the number four, delete it and put in a bigger number is trivial. But actually in terms of kind of winning people’s hearts and minds that’s been really impactful.
Mark Gray: But hey, it’s a really good question you’re asking. And I would say we haven’t got it all right. There’s absolutely more to do. And in particular we still need to make sure that those of our users who are not naturally digitally savvy. Who aren’t living kind of a digital life 24/7 as some of us do, that we don’t leave those colleagues behind. It’s really, really, really important.
Guy Nadivi: Given that your project broke a lot of ground in terms of how advanced a law enforcement agency’s IT operations can be, what impact has this digital transformation had on your ability to attract IT talent; compared to when you were primarily a paper-based organization?
Mark Gray: It’s a hard question because our whole set up is just completely different. It really is comparing apples and oranges. I guess, we have definitely found that we are more attractive to talent, because the opportunities are so much greater and frankly the scope of work is much more interesting. And we found both in attracting people from within the Crown Prosecution Service to come and work with the [inaudible 00:10:27], and in attracting people from across government, or from the private sector. We’ve definitely noticed that. It’s also of course much more demanding on our talent, both old and new. It’s much harder to manage a kind of, a dynamic mission critical environment than a relatively stable and unchanging sort of support system. So yeah, it’s definitely, the talent space definitely been a big sort of step up. And we’ve had to make sure that our whole processes and our set up and our people are ready to manage in a digital world.
Guy Nadivi: So looking back, what functions at CPS and the justice system in general were the most difficult to digitally transform?
Mark Gray: I guess it’s those that directly touch the wider public. In criminal justice there’s a really difficult balance to get between transformation and digitalization of processes, while making sure that justice is still served. Making sure that justice is still accessible to everyone. So all our major trials, our Crown Court trials are trial by jury. So there are 12 members of that jury and it’s really important that all 12 of those people are presented with the relevant information in a way that they find accessible. And so you can’t just kind of blaze ahead and replace all the paper with iPads, and expect that everyone on that jury can cope with that. And in fact I would say you talked about some of our paper savings, and the last real remaining vestige of paper in the criminal justice system is some of the kind of jury papers for exactly that reason.
Mark Gray: So I think, those bits that we can kind of directly control and work with our staff on are, for all the reasons you described earlier, are very challenging, but are easier than those bits that touch the public. I guess the other thing to say in the context of difficulty is the sort of technical infrastructure has been a real challenge. So we receive about a terabyte of multimedia evidence every single day. And so you can imagine there are all kinds of network architecture was of say five years ago, would not scale for anything like that. And so actually how we kind of had to re architect our whole infrastructure to accommodate that burden has been the, I guess the other big challenge along the way.
Guy Nadivi: Mark, I think a number of people would be curious. How has your digital transformation project affected CPS’ relationships with its IT service providers?
Mark Gray: Oh, I think the one word answer is massively. So we have through this process and through the kind of increased focus on digital, we have moved from what was essentially a single supplier outsourced model, to a multi supplier model supported by the kind of enhanced internal capability I was talking about earlier. And that internal capability both provides a large number of services directly, ad provides the kind of oversight layer across all the suppliers. And I think we’ve demanded much more flexibility, much more speed and agility. Much, much more volume of change from our suppliers than we had before, and of course that’s been a learning curve for them.
Mark Gray: In particular we’ve had one supplier who had been a very long standing and very, very positive relationship supplier. But that again, it’s a big shift from managing a business as usual, relatively stable service, particularly one that’s kind of a support for an organization to running one that’s fast changing, that’s transforming rapidly, that’s very dynamic. And it’s absolutely mission critical. If our case management system doesn’t work, then it’s no exaggeration to say that the criminal justice system of the country grinds to a halt. So, yeah it’s definitely, I guess made the supplier relationships and environment much more intense, much more competitive, and much more dynamic.
Guy Nadivi: What about the impact digital transformation has had on the organizational hierarchy at CPS? Is it still pretty centralized, or are you a flatter more agile agency now?
Mark Gray: That’s a tough question. I think — I don’t think it’s so much being about the hierarchy as such. But there has undoubtedly been that kind of significant cultural dimension to the change. And in particular, I think the kind of things like the managerial trust in people to how they manage their work. The ability for people to work remotely from their managers, is something that simply didn’t exist a few years ago. And actually that changes that relationship and those behaviors quite substantially. We’re now kind of seen across UK government as a leader, as a flagship for that kind of flexible, smarter working. Because we have kind of 90+ percent of our colleagues work remotely every quarter. And I don’t think it’s particularly changed the hierarchical structure, but it has definitely kind of changed the interpersonal dynamics. And getting that balance right between kind of, absolutely trusting people to work flexibly between judging them on therefore on their outputs and inputs. But also not losing all the benefits, and kind of cohesion associated with people being co-located.
Guy Nadivi: Mark you came to Crown Protection Services from the private sector. What was it like adjusting to the public sector?
Mark Gray: It was an interesting change. I mean my experiences is that every organization I’ve worked for has been quite markedly different. And that it’s not necessarily a public versus private split so much as an organizational dynamic split. That said, I guess if I was going to pick out a couple of big sorts of changes I noted when joining this organization. I think the biggest positive has been the phenomenal passion that people have for the end cause. So, whether you’re a frontline lawyer through to somebody working in a back office corporate function. Everybody is really passionate about doing a good job, because they recognize that, that makes the justice process better, which in turn makes the society in which we live in. And while of course in the private sector people are absolutely motivated by the company doing well, by generating shareholder value, perhaps by their own bonus or reward or whatever. That that kind of underlying passion for the cause, it’s something that I’ve really noticed.
Mark Gray: I guess on the sort of flip side, I think a big part of what I needed to do is to make people believe that transformation at pace was possible. Some of the stereotypes are undoubtedly true. We have cut through some of the unnecessary bureaucracy where it’s not serving a purpose, and just making people realize that actually when you pull out the stops, you can make things happen in a very transformational way at pace. And, almost not constraining themselves. They’re really, really pushing and really driving things through. I think that’s been the biggest thing that perhaps wasn’t there so much as a natural default in the public sector. That we’ve really kind of worked on that turbocharging the transformation.
Guy Nadivi: Mark, were there any skills you found were most effective at automating IT operations, particularly in a public sector organization?
Mark Gray: I think there’s a few. I think to exactly the previous point and I think drive and energy had been really key skills, and I guess tenacity relatedly. So it’s making sure that I and my team’s really push things through, and follow up on things. And if things aren’t moving then kind of systematically unblock them rather than just saying, “Ah, well I’ve sent an email to Fred, and so therefore I’ve done my bit.” It’s actually, if Fred isn’t coming back, or if it’s stuck somewhere down the line, it’s kind of really chasing that through, really following through.
Mark Gray: I think there’s undoubtedly a skill of kind of juggling many things at the same time. And sort of judging what the most important is, and where the relative priorities lie. And taking risk-based judgments, risk in all sense of the word. I think that’s been really important.
Mark Gray: I think there’s something about recognizing the limitations of what it can do as well. So I touched on earlier on the judgment of prosecutors as a good example of things that can’t easily be automated. And similarly some of the discussion around where jurors, what the requirements of jurors. I think, frankly there’s nothing more irritating to an organization than somebody who kind of blazes in and promises everything, and actually recognizing that there are some genuine constraints. And if those constraints aren’t genuine, we’ll knock them down. If they are genuine then we’ll work with people to kind of work through those.
Mark Gray: Which I guess brings me to the final skill that springs to mind, which is that kind of collaboration and communication. Both kind of within our organization and externally. Most organizations have complex networks of stakeholders. My experience so far is that the government has particularly complex networks of stakeholders. And actually that kind of working collectively and collaboratively is really, really key.
Guy Nadivi: For the CIOs, CTOs, and other IT executives listening in, what is your one big must have piece of advice you’d like them to take away from our discussion, with regards to digitally transforming an organization?
Mark Gray: Good question. I think I’d come back on the final point I’ve just made. However much you think it’s about the technology, it’s not really about the technology, it’s all about the people. So listen to them. Explain honestly to them, both the good and the bad. When things go wrong, don’t hide. Tell them what’s gone wrong or why, and why won’t it happen again. And bring them along that journey with you. Because the technology side of things is one lens, but true transformation requires the people in the culture of an organization to shift as well.
Guy Nadivi: Excellent. All right. Looks like that’s all the time we have for on this episode of Intelligent Automation Radio.
Guy Nadivi: Mark, thank you for being our first guest from law enforcement and providing us with a perspective on digitally transforming law enforcement IT. It’s been great having you on the show.
Mark Gray: It’s been a pleasure.
Guy Nadivi: Mark Gray Digital Transformation Director for Crown Prosecution Service. Thank you for listening everyone and remember, don’t hesitate, automate.
Digital Transformation Director at Crown Prosecution Service.
Mark joined the Crown Prosecution Service in July 2016, where he leads the digital & technology directorate and is also responsible for commercial and estates. He is driving the CPS’ 2020 Digital Strategy — priorities include investments in new hardware, software and infrastructure; migration to cloud of a wide range of services; building partnerships across the criminal justice system; and contract disaggregation. He previously worked in a variety of private sector roles, most recently at Barclays Bank. Away from work, he has a 4 year old son, a one year old daughter and is a keen football supporter, chess player and curry eater!
Mark can be found at: