The road to digital transformation

Since the completion of the National Operational Guidance Programme last year, the NFCC has been busy establishing its new Central Programme Office and the three major programmes that are the mainstay of its work. The Digital and Data Programme now join the People Programme and Community Risk Programme in an effort to transform fire and rescue services.

NFCC Strategy

The NFCC Strategy includes a commitment to maximise the value of digital solutions to improve efficiency and effectiveness of the Fire and Rescue Service. The aspiration for digital transformation goes further than this and challenges organisations to consider new ways of working, how they interact with partners, the public and each other.

To help the NFCC meet this commitment, the Digital and Data Programme team has started some early discovery work and has come up with three broad digital problems:

  1. We don’t know what digital transformation activity is taking place now across fire and rescue services
  2. We think we don’t make good enough use of the data we produce or have access to
  3. We don’t have a firm view of what a digitally transformed fire and rescue service looks like in ten plus years’ time.


This is well explained in a short video that is available on the NFCC YouTube site.

The draft Digital and Data Strategy sets out the vision. It considers the broad strategic context in which the NFCC will operate to set the scene for embracing the Local Digital Declaration, a set of principles that will guide its work (see below). It also describes how the Digital and Data Programme will operate, using agile methods to try out new approaches that start small, looking for progress over perfection and experimentation over planning.

Digital collaboration, pooling of resources and the delivery of efficiency across fire and rescue services are not new concepts and the Programme team is drawing on the experience of developing national operational guidance.

Like NOG, any products coming from the Digital and Data Programme need to be of the highest quality and have been developed with the full engagement of all fire and rescue services. They will need to have involved appropriate experts from outside the Service, be independently assured and their adoption needs to be supported by the NFCC. There can be no compulsion to collaborate. It is an issue of leadership, not forced compliance.

The success of the Programme will be measured by the degree of change it achieves, not just by the products that are made available. This is where the Local Digital Declaration really helps by setting out a set of expectations for leaders in any organisation wanting to move forward with digital transformation. The Declaration is an initiative being led by the local digital team in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Local authorities are being encouraged to commit to:

  • Design services that best meet the needs of citizens
  • Challenge the technology market to offer the flexible tools and services we need
  • Protect citizens’ privacy and security
  • Deliver better value for money.



“What the agenda shows is that the topic of digital transformation is vast and affects all areas of fire and rescue service business”


Leadership Requirement

The leadership required to get this right is fundamental to the success of the Programme. There are a number of things that need to happen to put digital expertise at the centre of decision making. It needs leaders to champion the Declaration, trying new things and talking publicly about things that do not work or could have gone better.

This is quite a departure for many organisations, fire and rescue services included. Currently, only West Midlands Fire Service and London Fire Brigade have signed the Declaration, but it is early days and hopefully many more will follow suit.

The Programme team will be working in a different way to support this leadership through adopting an agile approach, with lots of short pieces of work rather than having a long project plan for something that might take years to achieve. It is new to the team and to the NFCC, but it is an exciting development.

The work of the Programme is organised in three phases that learn from each other. The first phase focuses on mapping existing activity and connecting like minds across the UK. The second looks at data standards, reviewing the incident recording system and examining sector wide access to data. It will also ensure strong ties with the other Programmes, enabling digital solutions and with a firm eye to the third phase of activity – making sense of, what the Programme is calling the ‘fuzzy future’.

Event Feedback

To aid the discovery work, the Programme team held two events. The first was a one-day meetup of data analysts working in fire and rescue services and the second was an unconference for digital disruptors. Trying out new ways of engaging with people is also at the heart of the Programme and so far the approach seems to be working.

Data analysts from over 30 fire and rescue services came to the meetup on April 5. They looked at data problems faced by the Fire and Rescue Service:

  1. Problem 1 – Lack of consistency in data standards. We do not have an open data standard for fire so sharing data is hard.
  2. Problem 2 – Outdated Incident Recording System. IRS is clunky and inaccessible making it hard to use aggregate data for policy making
  3. Problem 3 – Lack of centralised data. Fire and rescue services hold data locally so getting an aggregate view across all services is impossible.


This list was partially influenced by the outcome of the recent HMICFRS inspection of fire and rescue services. The tranche one summary report notes: ‘We are concerned about the absence of consistent, comparable and good quality data available within each fire and rescue service and across services in England. The lack of data makes it hard for services to be sure they are providing the right support to the public. This problem, combined with the absence of existing national standards, has resulted in local variations in almost every aspect of what each fire and rescue service does. The public can’t always be sure they will receive the same quality of support from fire and rescue services or understand the justification for variations between areas. This situation needs to improve’. (p20)

IRS Problems

There was a lot of discussion about the Incident Recording System (IRS) as the meetup coincided with a letter from the Home Office about the future of the datacentre that hosts IRS. One area of interest was the potential for all fire and rescue services to have access to IRS to perform national level analysis. Analysts thought there were some good benefits from this:

  • Benchmarking – compare like for like
  • National level trends
  • Test decisions made locally and compare with others
  • Provide evidence for policy making.


Looking to the future and a potential refresh or even replacement for IRS, analysts had a very long wish list of items they would like to see. These included the expansion of the dataset involving all prevention and protection activity and a way to streamline servicing FOI requests that often go to many fire and rescue services at once.

The problems of data standards and a lack of centralised data sources were discussed both at the meetup and the unconference that took place in Birmingham on May 8. An unconference is a conference without an agenda. This time the invite was open to anyone in fire and rescue services that had an interest in digital transformation; the invitation called them ‘digital disruptors’. Around 50 people attended.

Stepping up to pitch an idea in front of an audience is tough, but with 16 willing participants the agenda for the conference was filled quickly, providing a wide range of topics with something for everyone. It is available to see via this link:

What the agenda shows is that the topic of digital transformation is vast and affects all areas of fire and rescue service business. The most popular topics focused on how to join up data in the control room with that needed/found on the incident ground; the value of machine learning techniques; how to develop public facing digital tools using agile approaches; and how to get crews to better use MDTs on fire appliances.

Unconference Approach

One of the reasons for taking an unconference approach was to discover what interested people and to find out what digital disruption is already taking place in fire and rescue services. And this worked. Bringing together like minds in a kind of digital dating agency is a great way to make new contacts and find people who are working on the same problems, the same solutions but often many miles apart.

The discovery work of the Digital and Data Programme has been incredibly revealing. It has shown that there is a lot of digital activity going on in fire and rescue services, but very much under the radar and local. Given the opportunity, those involved in digital projects are very willing to share and talk about their work and this is something that the Programme can help with.

What is crucial now is for the Programme to take stock of what it has learned so far and work out where it can have greatest impact. The governance of the Programme is taking shape and along with the other two CPO Programmes it too will report into the NFCC Steering Group to ensure strategic oversight.

It is an exciting time for the NFCC. The Digital and Data Programme has enormous potential and the team is very keen to hear from anyone who would like to be involved. Email [email protected]

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