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DevOps established even with no access to secure gateway

Metropolitan Police: DevOps in a maximum security culture

The Met engaged us to help drive the Agile transformation of all its IT projects and the establishment of a DevOps approach. Through our support, a sustainable cultural and infrastructural change has been achieved, enabling continual improvement of the innovative IT solutions with which the Met provides an effective service to Londoners.


The Metropolitan Police, known as the Met, is the UK’s largest police service, with jurisdiction over the 32 boroughs of Greater London, excluding the City of London.


In a continual drive for greater efficiency in the service of Londoners, and working in an environment of necessarily stringent security, the Met has undertaken a digital transformation of the systems and services used by its staff and officers.

Given the nature of the service it provides, the Met undergoes substantial inspection and audit activity by a number of external bodies and organisations to ensure that it provides an effective and efficient service to Londoners.

In this continual drive for greater efficiency, the Met embarked on a digital transformation of the systems and services used by its staff and officers. This was no small undertaking. The security requirements of the Met’s IT infrastructure, hardware and software were of paramount concern to them, placing huge constraints on the transformation programme.

While the constraints were large, they were not insuperable. IndigoBlue’s DevOps and Agile experts bring together a combination of specialist technical knowledge, extensive experience and a sensitivity to the needs of the wider organisation. It was for this reason that the Met engaged us to help drive the Agile transformation of all its IT projects and to support the establishment and continued operation of its new IT infrastructure. The aim of this new infrastructure was to establish DevOps at the Met, facilitating the incremental delivery of services.


While posing a significant challenge to the delivery of the programme, the need for stringent security was inescapable. It was vital that the Met’s systems were as impenetrable as possible to hacks, with not only the fairness of investigations and prosecutions at stake, but also the lives of officers.

As well as the significant security constraints, the transformation programme itself was formidable in scale and encompassed a move away from managed services and towards private cloud, while also contending with a large amount of legacy software.

One of the most significant challenges was posed by the requirement for traffic from deployed services to pass through a secure gateway, one that was inaccessible both to our consultants and the teams with which they were working. So, not only was the programme large and significantly constrained, it was necessary for our consultants to work effectively blindfolded on key aspects.

Our approach

The small, expert team of IndigoBlue consultants was heavily involved in all aspects of the programme, helping to build the new Agile and DevOps culture – one in which software engineering principles were applied both to software development and IT infrastructure, and in which specialist representatives of Operations and Security were significant stakeholders in Development teams.

At the heart of this approach is to “shift things to the left”, i.e. to deploy to production as early as possible, providing early visibility to Compliance, Security and Architecture teams and ensuring that their integrations work from the outset. In this way, DevOps promotes trust, communication and collaboration between the different disciplines.

With the planned move to private cloud hosting as part of the DevOps transformation, it was imperative for our consultants to promote and facilitate conversations with Security from the start, to provide confidence that the planned approach to the infrastructure was sound.

It was as a result of these conversations that the decision was made to build a private cloud, hosted and managed in-house. With our support, the Met DevOps team set up OpenStack (open source software for creating private and public clouds) and applied continuous delivery principles from there, automating as much of the application deployment pipeline as possible. The base virtual machine image used for application deployments was created from scratch; and the penetration testers who tested the system reported that it was the best they had ever seen. Once the private cloud was established, legacy applications and new services were migrated onto it.

In parallel with the infrastructure work, the IndigoBlue team supported many of the programme’s software development projects. We recommended an incremental delivery approach, prioritising work by business value and delivering service increments in small batches. This was a vital factor in achieving a successful outcome, what with the scale of effort involved in replacing a whole host of legacy IT and paper-based systems.

These services included: MetSearch (controlled, secure Google-like access to the National Crime Database – previously a desktop-bound application which interfaced with a mainframe); and the Case Overview and Prosecutions Application (COPA), a new online service to record notes and witness statements at crime scenes. These were two of a range of new online services accessed via tablet devices, designed to replace the police officer’s pocket notebook.

Crime scene notes on paper previously had to be transcribed manually into a desktop-based IT application back at headquarters; and witnesses would typically have to make a statement at a police station at a later point. Now, while still at the crime scene, COPA enables officers to record notes and witnesses to make, check and sign their statements.

The Met’s team initially assumed that the COPA system would need to offer comprehensive coverage of crime types before it could be tested by officers. We recommended an incremental approach, taking first the most common crime type and building and testing functionality for that. Not only did this provide early value to the organisation and feedback on the software from officers, it also provided vital feedback on the hardware being used.

We were closely involved in the configuration and deployment of this secure hardware and in setting up the complete encryption to access the online services. However, as already mentioned, our consultants had no access to the secure gateway. And while the teams were working towards the continual flow of software increments into production following DevOps practices, the secure gateway presented a challenge to this that needed to be tackled in different ways for each project.

Forced to work blind, it was only thanks to the expertise, rich experience and communication skills of our consultants that this obstacle was overcome. The engineers of the secure gateway were directed in what needed to be done to deploy applications or fix bugs. In order for the new way of working to be sustainable, our consultants helped the Met to recruit a Network Engineer with sufficient expertise and experience to operate in this unique context.

The outcomes

The Met’s ambitious transformation programme was comprehensive in exactly the way it needed to be. Rather than focusing solely on software development, the Met understood that the programme needed to be all-encompassing, taking in IT infrastructure, software, hardware, engineering practices and ways of working.

The result is an optimised environment in which DevOps and Agile practices flourish in support of the Met’s organisational goals.

The feedback from officers on the beat is overwhelmingly positive. They report that COPA is the best prosecution case preparation system they have ever used. And thanks to the mobile access they now have to the Met’s systems via tablet devices, they can spend less time in the office and more time policing.

With our support, the transformation programme has brought about sustainable change. Through mentoring, our consultants helped the Met to strengthen the skills and experience of its teams in Agile and DevOps; where skills gaps existed, they also supported recruitment of specialists. In this way, the Met cultivated teams that could operate effectively in its unique environment, continually improving the IT solutions with which the Met provides an effective service to Londoners.

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