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  1. Spotlight on Policy
15 January 2021

The future of borders

Trade, travel and security can all be enhanced by new technology. 

By Al Potter

There are lessons to be learned from 2020. While the coronavirus pandemic impacted the flow of trade and travel, every effort has been made to ensure border transactions do not stop. They cannot afford to, as they have become too important to our increasingly globalised and interconnected world.

The internationally shared challenge of Covid-19 has forced greater levels of transformation and innovation than we have ever seen before. Governments and industries are now pioneering new ways of working together to facilitate trade and travel, recognising the need to become nimbler in how they manage people, products and services.

Combined with the changes resulting from the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, there are huge opportunities to re-imagine technology’s role at the border. With this in mind, economic recovery and success hinges on our ability to work together, swiftly and safely.

Now outside of the EU, the UK is focused on retaining its status in the international market as an ideal conduit and launch pad for business. Central to this is the government’s ambition to have a “world-leading” border by 2025. The 2025 border vision centres on the transformation of processes, systems and infrastructure – using new technologies to empower these changes and deliver enhanced border security and efficiency, alongside economic prosperity and an improved user experience.

“Technology-enabled automation and data analytics,” notes Emma Churchill, director-general of the Border and Protocol Delivery Group at the Cabinet Office, “have the potential to revolutionise how the UK border operates.” The goal, she suggests, is to create a frictionless, smart and intelligence-driven border. “We have established the Border Operations Centre, which uses state of the art technology to monitor the UK border in real time. This new asset will give us access to more intelligence in one place than ever before, enabling us to quickly tackle any issues that arise.”

The Trade Bill, introduced into parliament as a key element of the UK’s future trade policy, supports the change needed to enable this. The planned £705m overhaul of UK border systems will undoubtedly generate even more data. As government departments and industry bodies are able to collect, collate and interpret data in unprecedented ways, greater value can be harnessed from previously siloed data sets.

The creation of a single technological ecosystem where data seamlessly flows between trusted stakeholders will transform the way we identify security and public health risks, dangerous and contraband cargo, and supply chain integrity and availability.

[Read our exclusive research: What could Single Trade Windows mean for the growth of UK PLC?]

Technology can remove the need for people to input the same information more than once. As Dr Peter William Walsh, a researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, explains, technology may be used “to improve the effectiveness of the immigration system with faster processing of applications and a lower burden of administrative work for applicants, whose digital lives can be tapped into more easily to provide proof of their work, health, family and study histories”. The same benefits can be realised for traders.

At present, the UK’s border management systems operate almost independently, on legacy software. Using innovative approaches to modernise systems and create an open and secure, integrated, digital architecture will enable information sources to be pulled together, and data used to deliver reliable, intelligence-led targeting and data visibility. This reduces duplication and improves security through risk-based profiling – enabling proactive action rather than waiting for problems to occur.

This includes, for instance, maturing processes and methods for collecting and collating advanced passenger information to reduce pressure on border agencies; real-time transport information, such as news about traffic or road closures to help to manage the flow of trade; while automation can help to free up resources. This enables an understanding of greater volumes of data.

So, in practical terms, what does that really mean? Making sure the right data is collected and processed in a timely manner means that resources can be in the right place at the right time, ensuring goods and people flow, and bad actors arrested.

Leidos, equipped with over 50 years of experience in defence, security and engineering, has developed a range of technologies to assist with the UK’s border needs, from prediction through to resolution. Leidos has developed cargo scanners, operational systems that blend data from multiple sensory inputs, surveillance technology, and biometric devices.

It is important to note that no single product is a panacea for the challenges of UK border management. A collaborative approach between government and industry, recognising what can be leveraged from current infrastructure and what approaches can deliver transformation and end-user benefits without the need for massive refactoring, is critical.

Ultimately, digital transformation can help the UK border to enjoy the benefits of internationalism while mitigating the risk factors it needs to operate more diligently. In the future, the UK border needs to be more mobile and responsive, especially in the event of another crisis. An effective border, enabled and empowered by a technological ecosystem, can form the basis of a thriving and progressive economy.

Al Potter is managing director and vice-president for national security and defence at Leidos UK.

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