Voices from Accenture Public Service

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When the subject of a national border is mentioned, what images spring to mind? For most people the answer is all too obvious. Queues at airports. Delayed freight shipments. The latest drug bust. Illegal immigrants trying to gain access.

The fact is, our borders are mostly efficient and well-run operations. Yet the only times when they’re brought to the attention of the public at large is when bad things happen. Largely as a result, borders are widely perceived as a problem. A problem that has to be managed.

But try looking at the border in a different and more positive light, as a piece of our critical national infrastructure. One that – like roads, hospitals, schools, power stations and other infrastructure – delivers substantial benefits and returns on investment to the economy and society.

What benefits? Think about it and they start to multiply. The border facilitates trade, supporting economic activity and prosperity. Keeps our communities safe by stopping bad people and harmful shipments getting in. Helps people travel for business and pleasure. Enables taxes to be collected. Assists in maintaining food quality. The list goes on.

Put simply, with this mindset the border ceases to be a problem to be managed – and becomes a positive asset, and an opportunity to be realised. Like other assets, it needs constant care and attention to remain fit for purpose. But get it right, and you’re looking at outcomes including higher GDP growth, more successful businesses, tighter security, more tourism, higher government receipts to reinvest in other infrastructure, and more.

All of this underlines the scale and diversity of the returns on offer from investing in the border. It’s a compelling business case – and one that governments and border agencies around the world are increasingly buying into. As a result, the underlying objectives for investing in border capabilities are evolving away from a cost-cutting, doing-more-for-less agenda and towards seizing the upside opportunities it presents.

As this shift gathers pace, the diverse array of benefits I’ve described may sound too good to be true. But, given the right foundations and will to drive positive change, I think they really are achievable. In other words, while realising the full potential of the border as an asset is a significant undertaking, it can be done.

How? For me, three steps are vital to success:

• First, create a very clear mandate for change that supports a new vision for the border and the value it can bring to the nation. This mandate will help to generate the direction, top-level buy-in and momentum to drive decisions that deliver the optimal outcomes for the country as a whole.

• Second, ensure access to new dedicated funding – not just recycled money freed up from reductions elsewhere – that’s unlocked through the development of a robust business case. An important enabler for tapping these new funds will be identifying opportunities to piggy-back on existing programmes, such as extending the use of CCTV systems already implemented at the border.

• Third, get the diverse stakeholders aligned and co-create the plan required to deliver the vision and outcomes. In most countries, there are about 20 to 25 government agencies with an interest in the border. That’s before you add in third-parties ranging from traders to ferry companies and from port operators to airlines, plus agencies from overseas. All of these stakeholders need to be pulling in the same direction.

Take these three steps, and it all adds up to a win-win. But what’s needed in each country to kick-start progress towards viewing the border as a critical asset? I think the answer’s clear: a solid mandate and buy-in from the topmost levels of government – backed up by a willingness to collaborate and cooperate at a departmental level.

For any country, the national border represents a major – and often largely untapped – opportunity. It’s time to start making the most of it.

See this post on LinkedIn: Why the border isn’t a barrier – but a national asset.

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