Flying international? Soon it’ll feel domestic says DIBP tech chief


Fed-up with long snaking lines at passport control, filling-in paper arrival and departure cards and luggage that seems to take forever to roll onto the baggage carousel?

Those experiences will soon be banished to the past under an ambitious vision set out by Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIPB).

For DIBP’s first assistant secretary and chief information officer Randall Brugeaud, international gateways into and out of Australia need to become as convenient as flying domestic, with border control and security at airports strengthened even further thanks to evolving technology.

Addressing the Gartner Symposium 2016 at the Gold Coast this week, Brugeaud candidly admitted that although Australia had recently been a world leader in harnessing innovative systems to boost both security and convenience, the nation has now slipped behind other countries – a situation he intends to remedy.

“Our ambition is to become the world leader again. In 2007 we were world leading and we have progressively fallen behind for a number of reasons,” Brugeaud said. “Our ambition is to lead the world again.”

To achieve that aim, Brugeaud revealed that DIBP is looking at biometric technology and passenger processing systems that will allow people to simply walk through open scanner gates know as ‘races’ and only be stopped when they need to be.

“Our intention is to move a point where it is as much a comparison to domestic [air travel] as we can possibly make it,” Brugeaud told delegates.

Human recognition

Already being trialled in other jurisdictions, the so-called ‘open race’ systems allow authorities to match passengers’ electronic travel documents and identity details with their risk profiles, literally as they step off the plane.

Rather than using queues at static booths, the gates are set to open as a default and then stop persons of interest at key points where they can be spoken to or detained.

“It allows you then to just move through with sensors in the ceiling detecting who you are [with] biometric matching and as you approach the race, it either just lets you through or it closes up.

“It’s a very different experience where there’s absolutely no contact,” Brugeaud said. “The human recognition systems potentially allow us to process people without any human intervention.”

He said that ‘face-on-the move’ biometric matching could now be used for both crowd management or “to allow us to track passengers through the airport precinct when we need to track them.”

Workforce on the move

One operational challenge DIBP is still contemplating is what effect faster clearance of passengers will have on baggage halls as the faster people clear passport control, the longer they could have to wait for their bags.

He said simply shifting one bottleneck in the processing system to another was not something authorities could afford to do in terms of efficiency.

DIBP figures cited during the presentation put the projected increase in air and sea passengers at 23% between 2015 and 2019.

However air increasing passengers volumes are small beer compared to the ever-increasing sizes of cruise liners that now queue for berths at ports like Sydney.

With some ocean liners now carrying 5000 passengers, Brugeaud cautioned that processing such volumes “introduces quite a different dynamic for us needing to clear all of those passengers as they want to get off the vessel.”

It won’t just be passengers the noticing difference automation makes at the border. With static passport booths likely to be on the way out soon, the officers that staff them are set to become more physically and digitally mobile as they perform their duties.

Brugeaud observed that this meant officers would need devices and systems that delivered to them what they needed as they moved around.

The complexion of DIPB’s staffing post the July 1, 2016 creation of the Australian Border Force also looks set to change. As automation increases, the proportion of staff performing largely manual roles compared to those using, implementing or supporting systems usually shifts.

Brugeaud said that 14% “or around 2000 people” in DIBP were involved in delivering tech of some form.

“We are still working through quite a complex integration,” he said.

House of cards

And while there’s plenty of blue sky innovation at DIBP, shifting travellers and stakeholders off paper passenger cards onto electronic systems still doesn’t have a firm final delivery date attached to the project.

“We have a programme of work looking at creating digital passenger cards but, there are a number of negotiations we are working through with departments to be able to actually do that,” Brugeaud said.

“It is amazing how many people are interested in the data on passenger cards … we have the ABS interested for population data, AusTRAC from the point of view of currency flows … internal messaging, quarantine.”

Although a smartphone interface the obvious channel to get people to submit their travel declarations, Brugeaud frankly observed e-kiosks will still definitely be needed because not everyone will be access mobile apps — including himself.

“You fill in your declaration on a mobile device,” Brugeaud said.

“Or at a kiosk if you don’t own a mobile device. Or if you own a Windows device, like I do, and you can’t get any apps off the App Store.”

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