How digitally mature are passport services of countries?

11 December 2020 4 min. read
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BearingPoint has launched a new study that evaluates the digital maturity of passport services in key markets across the world. Ireland, Singapore, New Zealand, Finland and the United Kingdom emerged atop the list.

Much like shopping, business and most other forms of human interaction have moved online under the Covid-19 paradigm, government services will have to do the same if infection risks are to be minimised. BearingPoint has honed in on the digital maturity of government systems, with a focus on passport services around the world.

In what he described as the first of many such studies, BearingPoint partner and global leader of the Government & Public Sector practice Andrew Montgomery explained how passport services exemplify all the advances and challenges when it comes to the digitalisation of public services.

Level four passport services,

“While it is a service that citizens typically only need every 5 to 10 years, key trends like increased global travel volumes, more stringent security requirements, the management of citizen identity data and innovations in mobile and biometric data have driven the transformation of the services to different extents across global regions.” 

For clarity’s sake, the consulting firm divided the markets in focus into levels from one to five. Level five would be the most digitally mature passport services, with an integrated online experience, characaterised by a “low touch, seamless and paperless journey for the citizen,” according to the report. Even the passport in this case would be a mobile-based digital document.

Interestingly, none of the 20 markets made the cut for level five. The most digitalised passport services in the world – Ireland, Singapore, New Zealand, Finland and the UK – were classified as level four services by BearingPoint. At this level, the entire passport application service can be conducted online, although some offline interaction may still be necessary.

An example here is the submission of original supporting documents, which cannot be fulfilled online but can be done by post. For most other functions such as adding a missing document, or fixing a photograph, or even status updates and clarifications, applicants can use online channels. 

Level three passport services

Level three passport services also feature an online application, although this is limited to filling in key information and setting up a passport appointment. All the subsequent steps – submitting photographs & documents, giving biometric data, and in some cases making payments – must be completed at a physical appointment.

The digital data collection at this level helps eliminate the inefficiency and inaccuracy that is so characteristic of paper-based applications. Australia, France, Estonia, Brazil, Switzerland and the US have all been classified as level three passport services by BearingPoint researchers.

Level two passport services are the most common among the study’s focus markets. Services at this level feature an online booking and appointment system, but no online application whatsoever. All information and documents are submitted via an in-person appointment, and even collection has to be in person. 

Level two passport services

To match this large volume of appointments, these countries often have a large number of public offices and information centres. Austria, Netherlands, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Romania and Germany are all classified as level two services by the BearingPoint.

Marking the lower extreme, the level one services bracket is also empty, signaling that most major markets have achieved some degree of digital maturity. In level one, passport services have a website with information, but nothing else. Everything in the passport application must be taken care of manually.

So while no country is completely achaic in its methods, all markets in the study have something to strive for when it comes to digitalising passport services. According to Montgomery, countries will be best served to make this investment, particularly with a travel boom imminent in the wake of Covid-19.

“While the demand for passport services globally has has fallen temporarily in line with current global travel restrictions, it can be expected that there will be a backlog of applications for passport service organisations to process as global travel starts to increase again. And citizens with holidays or business trips planned and their bags packed will always appreciate the ability to access a digital and always-on service when they realise that their passport is lost or expired!”