The environment in which border agencies operate is constantly changing. In my previous blog, I detailed how border agencies struggling to fully embrace new technology are challenged by an inability to manage new and changing treats. Digital is enabling criminals to reduce their physical footprint, while cyber-crime is demanding a digital border as much as a physical one. The question is what can agencies do about this fast-evolving threat landscape? In my view, they should start by focusing on four key areas.

1. Become data-driven

Border agencies must focus on how they use and manage data. That means aligning policies and data models with international standards as much as possible. Governance structures must ensure that data ownership, use and modification are fully traceable and that personal information is managed appropriately.

To foster the information-sharing crucial to combatting crimes such as smuggling and people trafficking, agencies must break down organisational and technology silos. One example? Using findings from case worker checks, controls and interviews to inform risk-management rules and algorithms so that risk models evolve from deductive to prescriptive.

2. Shift the officer mind-set

Border agencies need to make their data work much harder. They need to ensure that they use it to help officers gain insight, solve problems and make better-informed decisions. Of course, there’s little point in improving data if employees can’t take advantage. Today, 57% of border executives say their organisation does not have sufficient access to data science skills.[1] Border agencies will need to double down on recruiting and subsequently retaining those skills.

But as well as new skills, a new mindset is just as important. Case officers tend to trust experience over algorithms. Agencies must encourage officers to use their expertise to refine, rather than ignore, algorithms that can help them be more effective. As long-serving staff retire, it’s vital that algorithms can ‘learn’ from their experience.

3. Build a digital platform for trust

Being able to trust a large number of the goods and people flowing across the border is essential to operate efficiently. For example, frequent flyers can skip queues enabling border agencies to focus more on those that pose an actual risk. Companies that ensure their transactions are well-documented and have a history of compliance enjoy expedited clearance. Some are even sanctioned to perform their own risk assessments.[2]

This trust, however, usually doesn’t extend well across jurisdictions. Private sector and non-profit organisations are already taking a platform approach to building and extending trust across jurisdictions, such as TradeLens and KTDI. Border agencies need to take a more active role in the development and operation of such platforms and establish the foundational layer of digital identities, signatures and data-sharing standards to accelerate platform innovation and adoption.

4. Stretch the physical-digital border

While borders were once thought of as a hard line or location, they’re now more fluid. In response, moving some border processes upstream – for example, offering pre-departure security clearance for travellers and goods[3] – gives agencies advance information about the people and items coming towards them, so they can conduct early risk assessments. In addition, agencies can move some processes downstream, such as conducting post-clearance checks for AEOs.

Additionally, agencies should capture journey “events” through social media analysis, web crawling and IoT data. Digital twins of supply chains or locations along them, like ports and airports can help detect anomalies in behaviour. Bringing the physical and digital worlds closer together will yield results that are greater than the sum of their parts. (With this comes a need to up agencies’ digital defences against cybercrime. IT and infrastructure security, should be core to any digital initiative.

To date, border agencies have been put on the back foot when it comes to dealing with the evolving threats they face. But they don’t have to stay there. By harnessing data, reskilling their people and digitally retooling, agencies can get one step ahead of the threats they face and create smarter, safer borders.

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


1 Accenture Public Service Innovation Survey 2017

2 The Impact of UCC for AEO

3 Preclearance Locations

Alexander de Voet

Senior Manager – Consulting, Border Services Lead

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