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Taking steps to a frictionless border

The UK’s ambition to have a world-class border will only be achieved with a step-by-step approach. 

By Roz Barrance

This year’s headlines have been filled with reports of problems at the UK border – from fish and meat export delays to lorry drivers spending on average 3-5 per cent longer getting through. However, those working in the logistics trade know that while the UK’s departure from the EU has exacerbated these challenges, the root causes have been an issue for a long time.

In December 2020, the UK government set out a vision for modernising its borders, with a 2025 strategy aiming to deliver “the world’s most effective border that creates prosperity and enhances security for a global United Kingdom”.

Alongside six focus areas of border transformation, the ambitious 2025 vision sets out a number of multi-year programmes, including the development of a Single Trade Window “to create a single gateway for all data from traders into government”, Electronic Travel Authorisation to speed up passenger journeys, and a review of all border checks and agencies. 

The UK government is planning to introduce a Single Trade Window (STW) at the UK border. Take the New Stateman’s survey, sponsored by Leidos, to give your views on the pros and cons of this major technological innovation

One of the issues facing the government in delivering these programmes is the fight against legacy technology and infrastructure, built up over many years to support changing regulations. Current systems contain workarounds and temporary solutions that are not sustainable and add layers of complexity to how operations are conducted at the border. To realise the 2025 vision, we need to simplify how technology is applied. We do not need to do this in one go, however; a wholesale replacement of border systems is not realistic. Instead, change must be delivered iteratively, using a step-by-step approach to enable progress. 

According to Tony Smith, chairman of the International Border Management and Technologies Association, three principles are fundamental to achieving a world-class border. The first is a multiple borders strategy. “The border can no longer be drawn as a line on a map,” he says. “It is a series of transactions, which commence far away from the physical frontier, in advance of travel or transportation.” The second is “end-to-end identity”, for goods and people. The third, and “probably the most complex of all”, is “integrated border management”. 

Smith points out that more than 27 departments and agencies have a stake in the movement of people and goods across the border. As such, he says “it will be important to build a cross-departmental control strategy and border transformation programme which is sufficiently agile to cater for all of their concerns, and adaptable to new and emerging threats”.

“Technology will play a significant role in delivering all this, but it is not a panacea,” he adds. “Failure to deliver on any of the above principles brings with it the risk of failure. The construction, governance and management of the programme will be just as critical to its success – if not more so.”

Read more: The future of borders

A wealth of experience and expertise from across the private sector and industry can be applied to address Smith’s three fundamental principles. With over 50 years working in defence, security and engineering, Leidos specialises in partnering with government agencies to deliver major change programmes, streamlining operations and modernising systems. Within our latest programme of work, enabling end-to-end identity management with US Customs and Border Protection, Leidos provides life cycle application services alongside provision and maintenance of specialised equipment to support traveller enrolment and processing (including kiosks, workstations, biometric capture devices, document readers, and telecommunications equipment). This holistic approach will enable a smoother flow for border users and enhanced security and economic competitiveness.

In the UK, our “Operationally Led, Digitally Enabled” methodology, which has been applied to data-intensive challenges in the logistics sector, is particularly relevant. The Leidos MOD Logistics Commodities and Services Transformation (LCST) programme is an example to highlight. The key to that complex digital transformation puzzle was in recognising the reality of the heritage and modern worlds, and ensuring digital and business transformation went hand in hand. This approach avoids common issues with re-engineering the front-end while legacy problems remain in the back-end. Instead, we used robotic process automation and micro-services to interface with, and incrementally deliver, a transformed and user-focused system. The impact has been significant, reducing the time it takes from receiving an order to packing for shipment from 24-48 hours to a matter of minutes. 

Also in the US, Leidos is supporting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop, revitalise, and integrate IT infrastructure and applications by eliminating data “stovepipes”. These isolated stores contain valuable raw data that cannot be easily shared with other systems. By integrating information so that the full picture becomes visible, the powerful intelligence of the information held is released. These transformations, alongside a number of predictive risk algorithms, have enhanced security, boosted efficiency, and increased collected revenue of imports and exports, without the need for a wholesale replacement of the existing environment. 

From our experience delivering complex transformation programmes, the critical success factor lies in coupling the business transformation to the IT and associated data transformation. We use a “thread” approach to achieve this, where business processes are arranged into end-to-end threads, minimising “cross-coupling” where possible. Business, digital and data transformation can then be considered on a per-thread basis. This maximises the ability to transform business processes and underlying technology in parallel, unlocking the benefits and enabling the decoupling from the legacy technology, as well as increasing the speed of implementing change. 

There is a growing demand for digital transformation in all aspects of public services. This presents a unique opportunity for government, industry and technology suppliers to work together to make radical progress in developing our border management capabilities in the UK. Harnessing the power of this collective knowledge will support future UK security and economic prosperity, for the benefit of all. 

Roz Barrance is national security portfolio lead at Leidos UK. For more information visit

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