As technology continues to evolve at a blistering pace, criminals have been equally quick to take advantage. And border agencies find themselves on the back foot as they try to respond.

There’s always been organised crime. But new technology is enabling those criminal to strengthen and extend their networks even further. Customs fraud and people trafficking, for example, often involve dozens of entities in multiple countries. And many operate behind apparently legitimate business structures.

Flows of ecommerce and migrants across borders are both characterised by large numbers of individual and poorly-documented transactions. Identifying dangerous or fraudulent elements within them is increasingly difficult.

Cyber-crime is highly sophisticated – ranging from identity theft to possible compromise of border infrastructure such as e-gates. The dark web offers a market for criminals to transact and hide the proceeds of their activities out of sight of government agencies. And should quantum computing materialise, it could threaten the security of all systems secured by today’s standard algorithms.

All in all, border agencies’ face a very different, very challenging, and rapidly-evolving environment. To respond and get ahead of criminals, they have to evolve. To do that, they need to address some persistent barriers.

Why are agencies on the back foot?

Agencies’ approach to identifying and managing the risks related to goods and people has not evolved for the world of AI. It remains heavily rules-based or driven by intelligence based on historical data about the actual people and goods crossing the border rather than the networks of companies and individuals that sit behind them.

How and what data agencies use also restricts their ability to get ahead of changing threats. In many cases, they can only access data from their own organisation or country and the compliance information provided by traders, travellers and other stakeholders.  But they could harness and share much more. For example, 82% of citizens do not mind if their border agency shares their information with other government agencies, nationally or internationally, provided the data is secured.[1]

Where data is available, analytics often merely scratch the surface. Currently, most border agencies analyse historical data, but there’s room for more advanced techniques. For example, just 36% of border executives report that their organisation uses advanced analytics and predictive modelling. Only 40% use AI or machine learning.[2]

Low levels of collaboration and trust between case officers and data analysts hinders more use of automation. Officers who have developed their instincts over many years can be wary of trusting the analysis provided by a computer, and sceptical of data-mining and analysis.[3] Collaboration between agencies is also difficult. Increasingly international criminal networks can capitalise on the strict data privacy laws and cumbersome processes that make it hard for agencies to systematically share data and intelligence across jurisdictions.

Furthermore, border agencies need a more open and collaborative approach to innovation. Just 24% of border executives say that they use feedback from employees and internal teams to fuel their innovation agenda. That’s much lower than the 42% average seen across the entire public sector.[4] What’s more, only 36% of border executives report that following the implementation of an innovation, the team always shares what went well and what needs improvement.[5] Without that feedback loop, it’s hard for agencies to improve their approaches to adopting new technologies and ways of working.

To take a decisive leap forward and get ahead of their criminal adversaries, border agencies must address these critical areas. They need to become more data-driven, harness the potential of AI, make use of the broader ecosystem in which they operate and take advantage of digital technologies to enhance physical border security.

In my next blog, I’ll look at each of these in more detail. In the meantime, I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts. Please comment below on how you think border agencies should evolve as the world around them changes.

To follow more of my border insights, please connect with me on LinkedIn.


[1] Accenture Citizen Survey 2017

[2] Accenture Public Service Innovation Survey 2017

[3] De computer wijst de verdachte container aan

[4] Accenture Public Service Innovation Survey 2017

[5] Accenture Public Service Innovation Survey 2017

Alexander de Voet

Senior Manager – Consulting, Border Services Lead

Subscription Center
Subscribe to Voices of Accenture Public Service Subscribe to Voices of Accenture Public Service