Voices from Accenture Public Service

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From everyday experience, we all know how deeply embedded technology has now become in our working lives. But its reach goes much further and wider than that. Today, governments and businesses across the world are using technology to reshape, reimagine, and transform how our society works, communicates, and even governs itself. 

This seismic shift shines through in the research for Accenture’s 2018 Technology Vision. Some 82 percent of the public service, business and IT executives we surveyed worldwide agree that technology is enabling their organisations to weave themselves into the fabric of citizens’ lives.  

Savvy border services organisations are no exception. And they know that this level of connection will require a new relationship with citizens: one based not only on the products and services they provide, but also on their underlying goals and values.  

Against this backdrop, our Technology Vision for Border Agencies pinpoints five emerging trends that will impact border services in the next three years. So, what are they?  

The first is “Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Benefit Border Management”. Whether processing visa applications or securing international shipments, AI is becoming a powerful member of the border workforce. However, deploying AI is no longer just about training it to perform a task. With AI systems making critical decisions affecting the movement of people and trade, agencies must ensure AI acts like a responsible, productive member of society.  

This has major implications for public trust – a fact underlined by 78 percent of public service executives telling us they hope to build trust by being transparent in their AI decisions. In my view, any border services organisation that dives head-first into developing AI without regarding it as something that must be “raised” to maturity will struggle to meet new regulations and public demands. 

The second trend is “Extended Reality: The End of Distance”. Forays into using virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and extended reality (XR) are solving a tactical pain-point that all border agencies share: distance. Today, a customs compliance verification or inspection can be carried out either in person or remotely using AR. And for staff training, border agencies can use XR to bring trainers “on-site” from anywhere.  

The benefits from these technologies are already evident. In the US, AR is helping border agents identify potentially dangerous items or contraband in baggage. And going forward, immersive experiences delivered through XR will eliminate the most important distance of all: that between where the border is operated today, and where agencies want it to be operated in the future. 

The third trend is “Data Veracity: The Importance of Trust”. Border agencies are more data-driven than ever, meaning inaccurate or manipulated information could compromise the insights that they rely on to plan, operate and grow. But only 53 percent of our public service respondents feel confident in the quality of data their organisation collects and uses.  

To tackle this risk, agencies must build confidence in the provenance, context and integrity of their data. This means creating a “data intelligence” practice to embed and enforce data integrity and security and building the capability to track behavior associated with data as it’s recorded, used and maintained. These measures will help agencies reduce the “noise” in data so the real threats stand out. 

The fourth trend is “Frictionless Business: Built to Partner at Scale”. Border agencies operate through strategic partnerships – both public and private – and legacy systems can be a major impediment. To build stronger technology-based partnerships, agencies should adopt microservices architectures, blockchain and smart contracts.  

Again, there are already many examples. Singapore Customs is using an open-innovation platform based on microservices to develop both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-government (B2G) relationships. And blockchain is being used for tracking ethical supply chains, foreshadowing how it will enhance transparency for border agencies. 

The fifth trend is “The Internet of Thinking: Creating Intelligent Distributed Systems”. Robotics, immersive reality, AI and connected devices are combining to bring a new level of technological sophistication to the physical border. Realising these technologies’ full potential will require an overhaul of existing hardware infrastructures and a balance of cloud and edge computing. 

The results? We’re already seeing the “intelligent airport experience” that uses facial recognition to offer passengers a seamless journey from check-in to boarding. To make such experiences the norm, border agencies will need to progress beyond a “one-size-fits-all-tasks” approach and develop their workforces’ skills around custom and specialised hardware.

Together, these five trends will redefine the operation and experience of borders worldwide. And this isn’t a distant prospect: many aspects of the transformation are here today. So the future of the border is already happening. It’s time for agencies to embrace it, or face playing catch-up.    

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