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Why collaboration holds the key to co-ordinated border management


4 min read

The way in which we manage our borders has come under the spotlight in the last few years. This is largely a consequence of Brexit, though the challenge we face from COVID-19 and its implications on international trade and travel have sharpened the focus even more.

What’s clear is just how complex this operation has become. Advancements in the way that we trade goods and travel have led to UK border operations requiring the services of dozens of specialist agencies working independently from each other. We are now at the stage where effective management of our borders demands a more streamlined and coordinated approach.

Current customs and immigration systems operate in departmental silos of layered legacy software, built up over many years to support changing regulations. With 27 government departments working to balance priorities and manage the mass of people and goods that cross our air, land and sea crossing points every day, implementation of post-EU exit operations remains a complex challenge, in an increasingly short space of time.

As a starting point, it might seem tempting to get rid of legacy systems and begin afresh, but a wholesale revamp and replacement isn’t practical and would take many years. An alternative approach is to consolidate technology platforms to provide more standardisation across the board. But with so many legacy systems and disparate departments, implementing a coordinated border platform poses a huge challenge requiring major investment. Indeed, it has previously been estimated that the creation of a UK Single Trade Window environment would be in the region of £500-800 million over a minimum of five years.

Recognising the criticality of a co-ordinated approach to border management, the UK government has set out its 2025 vision to ‘to create and maintain a world class border that enhances the prosperity and security of the UK.’  The UK cross-government Border Delivery Group and Future Borders Programme have driven significant progress in scoping and coordinating plans to ensure the border works effectively after the transition period, alongside developing international, trade, and supplier partnerships, with particular emphasis on encouraging collaboration amongst interested industry players.

This is something all can agree on - to move from siloed ‘border controls’ to a world leading co-ordinated border management system, collaboration must lie at the heart of all activity. A collaborative approach between government departments, industry and international partners will enable the delivery of an end-to-end experience at the border, with minimal friction and cost for traders and travellers, based on international standards and operational best practice, supported by innovative technology and driving value through interoperability.

Collaboration at the border in practice

Our heritage in supporting global customs and border agencies has taught us that to make any new technology work, government departments will need to have easy access to the data it generates, and analytics to turn this data into intelligence, and facilitate customs and immigration decisions regardless of which silo the information is created in. This will not only require strong leadership across departments, but a co-ordinated and central team to facilitate the new joined up approach. 

In complex environments where a lot of change is required, strong collaboration always creates a smoother journey with customers and suppliers. Recognising this, in 2017 Leidos became one of the first companies in the world to achieve certification to ISO44001, the International Standard for Collaborative Business Relationships. We achieved this accreditation in conjunction with our long term client and partner, NATS.

As long-term partners to the UK and US governments, we currently provide fixed and mobile scanning equipment, multi-sensor surveillance, and integration services that include multi-modal biometrics, and non-intrusive inspection across many global frictionless border initiatives. We also worked with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to provide a single window view across all U.S. government agencies involved in international trade, alongside an electronic import entry system for industry.

Another example of our border co-ordination work is the development of applications to automate the identification of high-risk shipments, potentially tied to terrorism and other food-related emergencies, and support field inspections, enabling agents to spend more time on critical human elements of their roles, opposed to tasks which can be automated using data flow and risk modelling processes.

The task of reimagining and transforming our UK borders is large, complex, and some may say, daunting. However, by taking full advantage of advances in biometrics, in non-intrusive methods for examining persons and cargo to detect threats, and most crucially of all, in data sharing across government, Leidos believes it's possible to enhance the security of border crossings, accelerate processing of people and cargo to deal with the influx of new traffic — and to do it all without completely replacing the legacy world.

We must now master the collaboration needed between suppliers, government departments and industries who need to use the systems every day at the border to create a truly integrated approach to deliver the frictionless border of the future.

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