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IT proves its point as killer brought to justice

How an overnight upgrade to the HOLMES computing system helped Suffolk police manage the data necessary to catch Steve Wright after he murdered five women.

With modern cases build upon solid electronic document management systems and their associated platforms, security, uptime and a smooth constant flow of data are also imperative if these tools are to be successful in catching criminals.

The upgrade

Within the space of a week as the case unfolded, pressure on the current system meant Unisys needed to come up with an immediate response and an upgrade in user numbers if the police were to cope.

To do this, the company would have to overhaul the system's back office IT operation. This would give the police force the confidence to progress their investigations, while at the same time protecting themselves against accusations of flaws in their workflow, calls for an inquiry, or even perhaps having the case thrown out of court.

Normally such procedures can take weeks or even months of careful planning, but with time being in short supply Unisys and the Suffolk Constabulary took the decision to switch the whole IT backbone for the HOLMES 2 system overnight.

According to Forbes Gallagher, Client Home Office Account Executive at Unisys, it then took just 24 hours to source and deliver a SUN Fire v890 server, which had been picked for the task, with the help of Sun Microsystems.

"There was a degree of overnight downtime as the transition was made and this was accepted and agreed with the Force and timed to coincide with natural flows within the investigation," he says.

In terms of risk mitigation, Unisys' Holmes team kept the existing system 'warm'. Had the changeover failed, this would simply have reverted back while further work was carried out.

For Gallagher and his team the project generated unique pressures and challenges, though. "The first," he says, "was making sure that we were able to migrate the data onto the new solution while it was being used and doing so in such a way that it did not impinge on the policing operation."

Overnight to get the job done

Given the serious nature of the enquiry, the second challenge generated upon the Unisys migration team was self-inflicted.

"The migration had to be done overnight to coincide with operational demands of the Constabulary, and the Unisys team who started the preparation work in the early evening were reluctant to stand down until the migration had been completed and they were confident that it was operating as it should be," adds Forbes.

For many, this meant working for more than 24 hours straight just to get the job done.

As Stewart Gull, Detective Chief Superintendent at Suffolk Constabulary, recalls: "It was one of those times when you really appreciate your partners going the extra mile and coming through for you. We need to work quickly and accurately, with absolute security of data - and this is never truer than when we are busy with multiple enquiries."

"We were working on our most challenging case in Suffolk Constabulary's history," he adds. "Unisys provided the crucial IT systems we needed overnight. It meant we could analyse all the information from the numerous sources without concern over capacity or security."

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