Open tender to digitalise Australia’s visa application system

22 May 2018

The Australian Government is planning to outsource the visa application system and replace it with a Global Digital Platform. The call for partners opened in September last year and as of yet, there has been no announcement as to who has applied for the contract. However a recent press release has outlined the Department of Home Affairs’ intention to push ahead with the process after a wave of public criticism surrounding the plan.

Under the Federal Government’s plan, Australia’s outdated and manual visa system would receive an overhaul, seeing automation across a number of functions. The Global Digital Platform would streamline the visa application process which currently sees a quarter of visa applications submitted on paper.

Currently the Department of Home Affairs receives roughly 9 million visa applications per year and by 2030 that number is expected to rise to above 13 million. The outsourcing of the services will help the government in their ability to cope with the rising number of visa applications and will help them make informed visa decisions.

The tender document states that: “The Department expects the GDP to be capable of delivering all visa classes … Bundle 1 includes a digital business solution that is enabled by the GDP and supporting systems that drive the end-to-end processing and workflow of the visa and citizenship business, including lodgement, assessment and rule-based decision making on visa applications.”

Digital passport scanning at Australian Border or Australian Border Force at airport

The government also hopes that the new system will simplify Australia’s visa framework and also improve the experience of the applicant as well as improve assessment quality and consistency. The system overhaul is one part of the a greater plan by the Australian Government to shake up in what it calls the ‘Seamless Traveller Program’. The program will ideally see up to 90% of international travellers processed through automated solutions by 2020.

The projects $93.7 million budget has attracted some big names in the IT sphere with Vision-Box, Datacom, IBM, Telstra, Hewlett-Packard Australia (HPE) and Fujitsu all attended the briefing about the tender in July last year.

In the tender document it stated that “the Department is seeking innovative solutions to help design, implement and operate a new visa business based upon a sustainable and innovative service delivery model that transforms the way in which Australia interacts with visa applicants and visa holders.”

The Seamless Traveller Program also seeks to replace arrival smart-gates, the incoming passenger card and exit marshalling with AI processing systems which include biometric scanning technologies. The trio of new tech solutions will be integrated into the existing Pega framework deployed in August last year.

Sensitive visa applications such as humanitarian visas and diplomatic visas would continue to be processed by government staff. However the plans to digitalise the system have come under mounting pressure by a consortium of opposition citing concerns about privatisation, staff cuts and privacy.

Opposition to the Global Digital Platform

Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton last week spoke at the National Press Club about the proposal, saying that the changes are driven by a need for modernisation, not a desire to privatise the process.

“The issue we have in this modern age is the volume … I don’t have the staff, and never will, to provide the scrutiny that’s required that we can now deliver through technology.”

This rhetoric has countered previous comments about the financial benefits of the the new visa business from the First Assistant Secretary of the Immigration Department, Andrew Kefford.

“We are genuinely seeking a partnership to design, implement and run Australia’s visa business,” First Assistant Secretary of the Immigration Department, Andrew Kefford said in the briefing. “We are keen to explore commercial value-added services that will assist in attracting people to Australia.”

The mixed signals have confused the general public and led to a number of attacks on the plan, notably from both Labor, the Community and Public Sector Union and the Greens.

Labor’s Shayne Neumann said “the expertise and experience of our frontline workers” would be wasted with an automated system and that because of its “conservative, cost-cutting ideology that the Turnbull government is incapable of treating Australia’s public servants with the respect they deserve.”

“Our estimates that up to 3,000 jobs are potentially under threat,” said Nadine Flood from the Community and Public Sector Union. “But the department has been unwilling to answer the question about what they consider the threat to jobs. We base that estimate on the very large scope of potential privatisation identified by the government.”

Whilst the Department of Home Affairs believes the overhaul is in the interest of our national security, saying that the reforms will free up time for more important processes, the Greens believe that the move is in contradiction to national security.

"This is privatising access to Australia, and we know from similar moves in the United Kingdom that it leads to increased costs and a decrease in transparency and accountability," said Greens Senator Nick McKim. "It will be computers and algorithms that decide the outcome of visas, rather than humans, and this is a very human area.”

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Partners in Performance launches digital transformation unit

25 April 2019

Australian-origin management consulting firm Partners in Performance (PIP) has launched a new unit dedicated to digital transformation, bringing together offerings for technology and human capital.

The move comes at a time when digital has become a top strategic priority for organisations of all sizes. “Technology is creating new ways of operating, raising expectations and enabling new business models,” explained Gerd Schenkel, leader of the new wing PIP Digital.

Leveraging technology, companies are bolstering the way they identify and engage with customers and optimise customer experiences, and in parallel improving their internal operations including manufacturing and supply chain, as well as back-office functions such as human resources. Meanwhile, government institutions are embracing digitisation to enhance their provision of public services to businesses and citizens, while applying smart tooling to improve activities such as tax collection, fraud detection and public safety. 

In a KPMG survey on strategic priorities of Australia’s C-suite leaders in the private and public sector, digital transformation came out on top as the top factor, ahead of innovation and regulation. The growing opportunities and burning platform for adopting emerging technologies is resulting in a rapid growth in digital transformation spending. According to analyst firm IDC, global spending on digital transformation was up 18% last year to $1.18 trillion – an amount almost equal to the GDP of countries such as Australia and Indonesia.

Partners in Performance launches digital transformation unit

As part of their digital endeavours, organisations frequently turn to external experts for support, including management consultants, with the market for digital transformation consultancy booming. In Australia, digitisation is now the number one growth driver of the country’s US$5 billion consulting industry, with data & analytics, moves to cloud-based systems, Industry 4.0 and robotics process automation among the most in-demand solutions. 

A large number of digital transformation programmes however do not achieve the goals set; one estimate places the share of failed or suboptimal transitions at two thirds of all transformations. “We’ve observed many traditional attempts at digital transformation fail for a variety of reasons,” Schenkel agreed. 

PIP Digital has been setup to help customers approach digital transformation in an integral manner, “ensuring technology and people work in sync”, a mix which is set to enable the delivery of lasting results. Schenkel: “It has been disappointing to see many organisations being seduced into deploying canned technology as a core part of their digital agendas, overlooking the critical need to design new business models and processes around humans and their needs. We are here to close a gap in the market.”

He continued, “With our new service offer, Partners in Performance will provide a fresh approach to how organisations approach their digital agenda.” To this end, PIP Digital has brought together already present digital expertise across Partners in Performance’s footprint, spanning among others technology (led by Phil Ridley), analytics (Juan Ferrara), customer experience (Steven Henderson), and back office transformation (Malcolm Allen). Partners in Performance launched in Australia in 1996 and today has over 300 consultants across offices in Australia & New Zealand, Asia, Middle East, Europe and the Americas.

Schenkel has been brought on board to establish and grow the arm, bringing a wealth of experience in the digital realm to the consulting firm. He formerly was the CEO of payment company Tyro, an Executive Director of Telstra Digital and was the founder of UBank, NAB’s digital bank. “If executed  well, then digitisation can be a powerful opportunity for companies to stand out from their competitors and open up new growth avenues,” he concluded.

Other larger consulting firms with a dedicated digital arm include Deloitte (Deloitte Digital), McKinsey & Company (McKinsey Digital), Boston Consulting Group (BCG Platinion, BCG Gamma and BCG Digital Ventures), Bain & Company (Bain Digital) and PwC (PwC Digital).