A report from the Office of the Auditor-General has found New Zealand's border IT systems wanting, especially at the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI).
The report (pdf), released yesterday, said an audit looked at whether front-line staff from multiple border agencies have the systems, tools and resources to use and share information and whether there is effective collaboration between agencies operating at the border.
Border agencies have been cooperating to integrate their border systems for nearly a decade.
The information technology systems, tools, and resources used by the three agencies are "generally adequate", the audit found. However, there were limitations with some of the systems which meant although information was used effectively, it could be done more efficiently.
MPI, for instance, is still using a number of legacy systems from when it was the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The systems are usable, but slow and at times unreliable.
"Having multiple systems also means it takes staff a long time to find and use the right information, the Auditor-General found. "There are nine databases that intelligence staff may have to search through to find the information they need, which is inefficient."
MPI’s passenger processing system, MPI Pax, is also not user friendly. The system is cumbersome and creates inefficiencies. Because it is difficult to use, data entry is time consuming, with contractors employed to manually enter information from handwritten data.
There are also limitations to what can be entered into MPI Pax.
"In a changing global environment where threats, technological advances, and increased passenger numbers and baggage allowances can increase the demands on front-line staff, being able to work efficiently is particularly important," the report said.
"Some of the systems used by the agencies lead to inefficiencies with the way information is collected, shared, and used. To make the best use of information, the agencies require systems to be up to date and fit for purpose."
Customs’ system, CusMod, is fit for purpose for processing incoming passengers, and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
CusMod links all of Customs’ databases and enables passenger targeting officers to handle large volumes of information efficiently.
"CusMod has been used for more than 20 years but is still considered to be fit for purpose. Staff told us it meets their needs."
Immigration New Zealand's Application Management System, which supports the visa management function, was considered to be sound but was not designed to accommodate the growing requirements of border operations, including targeting risks, risk assessment, and workflow management.
These needs are being addressed through other solutions.
"The Application Management System will need to be kept under review to ensure that it is fit for purpose," the report says.
Immigration NZ and Customs both use the Automated Targeting System – Global to collect passenger name record data. However, because each agency assesses different risks, the system does not fully meet Immigration NZ's needs.
The agency is looking to replace this system with one that is more suited to assessing immigration risks.
"Having a system that allows it to automatically assess the risk of passengers based on information from airlines would increase effectiveness and efficiency, particularly as passenger numbers increase, the Auditor-General found.
Although front-line staff generally have adequate tools to do their jobs, the tools are not always the most up to date. The Ministry of Primary Industries' (MPI) legacy systems in particular were found to be incompatible with the operating software of mobile devices.
"Some devices are provided, but these have limited capabilities," the report said. "System upgrades would be required before it would be feasible to provide staff with these devices."
Providing front-line staff with such mobile devices would improve efficiency.
MPI acknowledged that some of the tools that front-line staff use, such as radios, are outdated. There is, however, a project under way to ensure that these staff have more modern and reliable equipment..
This project will be rolled out by the end of 2017.
In mid-2015, Customs trialed the use of mobile devices. It found that having direct access to Customs’ systems using these devices improved how efficiently staff could process passengers.
"Customs has continued to expand its use of mobile technology, including distributing laptops and tablets to enable mobile work stations and remote access," the report said.
"In our view, increased access to technology and improved tools should lead to more efficiency gains in the border sector as resources are used more effectively."
In 2012, a paper on the future direction of the border sector was agreed by Cabinet and border agencies. This outlined a view that shared processes, common infrastructure, and technology investments were needed to improve services at the border.