From humble beginnings in a garage office to one of the UK's fastest growing software companies
PUBLISHED: 11:35 16 January 2019 | UPDATED: 15:18 16 January 2019
Technology developed by Woodbridge firm helps police forces across the UK solve crimes more quickly.
The view from Boyd Mulvey’s new office window in Woodbridge takes in a wonderful Suffolk scene, overlooking a boat yard and beyond that the magnificent River Deben.
It’s a world away from where he started his business, Chorus Intelligence, from an office in his garage seven years ago, since when the venture has evolved to become one of the fastest-growing software companies in the UK – seeing turnover increase 30-fold in the past three years to £2m while staff numbers have risen from five to 25 over the same period.
At the core of the business is software that helps police forces and national law enforcement agencies solve crimes more quickly - enabling teams to trawl through a mountain of data in hours rather than the weeks and months it took previously when a manual system was in place.
Mr Mulvey, a Canadian national who married an English woman and settled here in the 1990s, heard about this problem facing police forces around a decade ago.
“I found out that the police were taking all the data they had for criminal investigations and they were crashing it all into a spreadsheet and cleansing and analysing all the data manually,” he said.
“When I first came over here, I had started working in the finance sector in the City and was involved in carrying out risk analysis for complex derivative trades. While parts of the job were interesting, I designed a system to automate the manual, repetitive elements of the job. When I found out the police were basically doing the same task as a trading bank and it was taking them weeks and sometimes months to go through this data per investigation, I thought what they are doing is no different to what I solved in the early 1990s.”
The idea for Chorus was spawned - the company name based on the idea of “all the different data working together in chorus”.
The first iteration of the product was developed in partnership with Greater Manchester Police, says Mr Mulvey - a task that took three years.
“For those first years it was just me and a couple of developers in my garage until four years ago when we started to sell the software in earnest,” he said.
News of the effectiveness of the Chorus system spread quickly and now Chorus works with 70 customers made up of close to 90% of police forces in the UK, as well as the Home Office and all counter terror units. Chorus’ technology has been instrumental in solving many of the UK’s most high profile crimes from county lines drug dealing networks to incidents of terrorism and missing persons.
The company was also recently short-listed in a Police Tech Pioneer report, which profiles technology revolutionising public safety in the UK, while it is now moving into related areas such as council and housing fraud, and other types of financial investigations.
While the problem Chorus solves seems a no-brainer, it is only when you start talking about the challenges facing police forces in the digital age that the complexity of the software becomes apparent.
In any given investigation, police may draw data from a host of sources – footage from helicopters and drones, CCTV, mobile phone records, ticketing machines, Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems, wifi activity and banking records.
Mr Mulvey continued: “You leave a digital footprint wherever you go now – the complicated bit is stitching all the information together to make up a pattern or a history of what actually happened. Where was the suspect at a certain time? Who did they contact? Where did they go next? How deep does the rabbit hole go? How big is the conspiracy? Who is the ring leader?
“We can do that at the push of a button whereas before the police would have had to do that manually using spreadsheets – a task that could take weeks or even months.
“Essentially, we help the police solve more crimes – it’s about introducing efficiencies, it’s about taking six months of analysis and reducing it down to a day. We have brought savings of 97% to the police’s use of data analytics and data analytics is the new DNA for the police.”
As with all software, the system is being constantly updated and improved and Chorus employs a national team of customer relationship managers who visit police forces and feedback any issues.
“We don’t just sell a bit of software to the police and leave them to it - we constantly develop, and train them, as the datasets are evolving all the time,” said Mulvey.
“There is a very complicated set of rules under the software and over the top of that you have visualisation, reports and mapping.”
Mr Mulvey likens the past “four years of intense growth” to being “in the middle of a snowstorm” and admits that managing this upward trajectory has “not been without hiccups”.
“It’s been a steep learning curve for me and the team,” he said.
“Developing the software, and getting the users to trust the software was the first big hurdle – that was a huge one but once the software was stable and doing what it needed to do, the harder bit was getting my team to work together and to make sure they are covering each other.
“Giving up control is fine but if you give up control to people who can’t handle it or before they are ready, the wheels will just come off. So, it’s about making sure people are in a position where they can handle that control.”
While Mr Mulvey is firmly established in the UK and has no plans to return to Canada, he will be flying across the Atlantic later this month as part of the company’s plans to expand its international footprint. Globally, police forces are facing the same challenges when it comes to data as their counterparts in the UK - a situation that Mr Mulvey says represents “a huge opportunity” for his company.
Chorus already works with police forces in half a dozen countries including Jamaica, Brazil and Portugal but “the big market” is America says Mr Mulvey - and that is where he is heading soon “to start the process”.
“It gives me a reason to go back home,” he adds with a smile.