UK scores highly in digital maturity of passport services

09 October 2020 4 min. read
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Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore and the UK have been assessed as having the highest maturity of digital passport services in the world. According to the results of a new study, however, each of them could still benefit from further digitalisation.

Digital and ‘virtual’ credentials are a hot topic in terms of the next generation of passport services, gaining increased support from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the UN agency in charge of ePassport standardisation. Now, the increased drive to minimise public contact during the coronavirus outbreak has seen the trend of passport digitisation accelerate further.

As government administrations evolve and reconfigure their services and organisations for the “new normal,” a new study from management and technology consultancy BearingPoint has assessed the digital maturity of passport services in countries around the globe. The “Passport Services Digital Leaders Study” examined the digital maturity across three dimensions and over 40 criteria, evaluating the digital passport offerings of 20 different countries.

Digital Maturity Results

Across Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Romania, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the US, only 11 countries offered a partial or full online passport application service. With attending appointments in public facilities a far more difficult process amid the on-going pandemic, this will surely have to change in the future.

Finland, Ireland New Zealand, Singapore and the UK were found to be the leading nations in terms of digital passport maturity – being named as ‘level four’ tier countries by BearingPoint. This represents a passport service that offers citizens an entirely online application process, though some offline interaction may be required. Passport services at this level offer online services for handling problems with the application, for example, resubmitting a photo digitally if the initially submitted photo did not meet specified standards.

Andrew Montgomery, Global Leader Government and Public Sector at BearingPoint, said, “Government and Public Sector organisations across Europe are accelerating their digitalisation initiatives as a result of the pandemic… The need to minimise interactions through physical channels and to redeploy staff to areas of higher demand has increased the priority of digitalisation projects… This is a trend we are seeing across all areas of the public service in which BearingPoint is working, including social and employment services, healthcare, local government and transportation, but with varying levels of maturity across different countries.”

The UK Government rolled out online passport renewals in March 2017, allowing applicants with an existing adult British passport to submit all their paperwork, including a photo from a smartphone, online. This drew the UK broadly in line with Ireland, which was one of the first countries in the world to offer a fully online passport renewal service. Ireland’s online passport service was designed and delivered by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs in association with BearingPoint and other partners.

Level four, three, two and one on the Service Maturity Assessment

Stewart Johns, Partner, BearingPoint UK, remarked, “I’m pleased the UK Passport Office has achieved an assessment level of four within this study. It is indicative of the significant efforts the organisation has made to progress its digital offering. To continue to achieve this high score, the Passport Office must continue to develop their understanding of customer needs and develop its digital capabilities in line with these and the increasingly demanding external environment.”

With that being said, no countries at all managed to reach ‘level five’ in terms of passport maturity. According to BearingPoint, the vision for this level of maturity is that all online passport services are integrated to deliver simple, end to end services with no offline interaction required. In addition to this low touch, seamless and paperless journey, a country at level five would provide a secure and consistent, centralised Identity and access management solution, as a core requirement for the effective delivery of digital services.

Gillian O’Sullivan, Partner and Digital Government Leader at BearingPoint Ireland, commented, “Countries must recognise the value of e-IDs as a means to protect citizens against fraud, to improve overall user experience, and to avoid the requirement of having to provide the same information to public sector bodies numerous times. Integrating the passport application service with an identity and access management solution will bring several benefits both for citizens and the organisation responsible for the issuance of passports.”