Theresa May calls it “gritty and unglamorous”, but police ICT reformers have built a solid framework for consensus.

The seniority of the speaker panel, and the appetite for places, at its summit last week showed that the Police ICT Company has found its footing fast. There’s a joined-up and consistent story on harmonising police technology, and the new organisation is accepted as central to achieving police service aims. It’s in line with our Digital Policing Review research findings over the last few months; some forces will plough their own furrow and some vendors will pay limited attention to Martin Wyke’s team, but they will be very much in the minority.

Such a stark difference from the days of PITO and NPIA is in part due to PCC ownership. The Company collects subscriptions from commissioners individually and it agrees its business plan collectively. This ensures more sensitivity to individual force requirements than mandated Home Office initiatives would ever display. The only querulous notes from the floor at the summit were a polite squabble over whether forces would junk telecoms assets to fit ESN rollout timetables, and some irritation at the requirement to spend central innovation funds in-year: it’s pretty easy for the new organisation to appear more flexible than the folk from Marsham Street.

But much of the favourable wind behind the Company comes from changes in policing and in the approach taken by NPCC. Shared IT departments have been part of a patchwork of recent bipartite and regional collaborations. In some cases they were approved by chiefs who viewed back office as immaterial to core policing; now they are pulling harmonised business processes behind them and have empowered a cadre of chief officers and CIOs committed to collaboration. The NPCC in turn has recognised that the real-world alliances which have emerged over the austerity decade provide a better template for partnerships than the old ACPO regions. So the Company and the NPCC are able to map a shared and plausible journey to 15 separate buying points.

The cartography may not reflect reality quite yet. North Wales is classed with its fellow Welsh forces; it has much more reason to collaborate with the North West. Staffordshire and the neighbouring West Mercia & Warwickshire Alliance are both bent on locally transformational outsourcing partnerships – all the less plausible to treat them as a threesome. But the willingness to treat Kent as Eastern rather than South Eastern demonstrates a pragmatic approach to redrawing boundaries; consolidation to 15 IT departments feels achievable.

And there’s far more of a collective NPCC vision for police technology than there was when PITO and NPIA held sway. The new Digital Policing Board will tie together the three major NPCC programmes: Digital First, Digital Intelligence & Investigation and Public Contact. As silos, these might only have been paid lip service by forces. There’s certainly been a haphazard rush to digital evidence platforms driven by the body-worn video explosion, well ahead of the slow progress in getting criminal justice stakeholders to settle on their long-term requirements. Many different approaches to bolting CRM onto core policing suites are being pursued. But the programmes will have much more clout as aligned initiatives with Sara Thornton’s direct support. The Public Contact programme in particular has a strong opportunity to drive harmonisation: NPCC wants a single website for digital engagement, just as 101 applies nationally. With the Digital Policing Board setting the long-term information strategy, the Operational Requirements Board calibrating this against day-to-day concerns, and the majority of police force clusters willing to play ball, there will be active demand for the various consolidation, vendor-wrangling and standardisation offerings which the Police ICT Company will provide.

Factors will remain which work against the harmonisation agenda. While investment in mobility and in digital investigation favours the new and shiny, investment in analytics and intelligence can reify the importance of legacy assets. The Met’s Craig Mackey has good reason to be excited by his 20 years of stable data. More importantly, the tension between local and national agendas won’t go away. Sara Thornton’s “Vision 2020” presentation suggested that local policing should align and integrate with local public services, while digital policing and business delivery seek consistency. But the real prize for cross-agency services is a public safety hub, or a MASH 2.0, where shared digital case management assets underpin a mature view of threat, risk and harm. The forces with the best story on this aren’t the same forces which are leading on national IT collaboration. There will be trade-offs between digital local policing and national consistency, and the former could be the priority for a new cohort of locally ambitious politicians in the PCC roles.

Overall, though, we seem suddenly to have a model for police ICT reform which has support from across the sector as well as heavyweight political backing. Suppliers will need to allocate resource to engagement with the Company – IBM devoted six staff to unifying i2 contracts – but vendor consolidation offers prizes to the more determined. For an industry which happily accepted hair shirts and G-Clouds from Maude’s henchmen on the off-chance of contract extensions, getting on Wyke’s catalogue and working to the standards should be comparatively painless. It’s perfectly possible that the blueprint will take off elsewhere in public services: the Health and Social Care Information Centre, for instance, could only be improved if it needed to collect a yearly subscription from NHS trusts to pursue its agenda.

What are the implications for Vigilant Research’s Digital Policing Review? Our aim is for our maturity and capability model for digital policing to be globally applicable across law enforcement bodies rather than parochially focused on the UK. We will be driven by what works best, both here and overseas. That said, conformity with a master strategy for digital intelligence, investigation and engagement should evidence maturity of vision. And it’s not being culturally biased to suggest that mature digital policing requires legitimacy, which in turn requires consistency across a polity. An independent Digital Policing Review should be at least as valuable in benchmarking the forces that fully embrace the Digital Policing Board and Police ICT Company vision as for those that steer a parallel course.