New Zealand Customs Service

Introducing SmartGate, an automated passenger clearance system, has cut customs queues at New Zealand’s international airports.

Smart initiative for travellers

New Zealand Customs Service logoTransforming the way in which New Zealanders and Australians are processed through international airports has had some clear benefits to the travelling public, to the New Zealand Customs Service (Customs), and to its stakeholders.

The implementation of SmartGate, an automated passenger processing system, was prompted by a desire from both the New Zealand Government and the Australian Government to make the movement of New Zealanders and Australians more efficient and easier. It was also driven by the expectation of a marked increase in visitors to New Zealand during the Rugby World Cup 2011.

Effective is doing the right thing smart. Efficiency is doing more or the same with less resources.

SmartGate reads a microchip embedded in passports and uses stored biometric data and photo-matching technology to confirm the identity of travellers. It provides accurate and fast automated clearance at the major international airports in New Zealand and Australia.

Several factors helped Customs to design and roll out the first SmartGate quickly, such as government support and the opportunity to benefit from Australia’s investment in SmartGate’s development and design. To fully explore its potential, Customs borrowed SmartGate from its Australian counterparts to test the technology. This enabled Customs to adapt SmartGate quickly, including enabling its compatibility with Customs’ main processing system, Cusmod.

Selecting the right people to work on the project has been critical to SmartGate’s success, as has working closely with all stakeholders, such as other government agencies, airlines, airports, and Morpho, the high-tech company that supplied the equipment.

Customs believes that the speedy and hassle-free introduction of SmartGate and its more effective and efficient processing of travellers have enhanced Customs’ reputation with the public, airlines, airports, and other important stakeholders. SmartGate is also a success story in terms of trans-Tasman co-operation.

John Kyne, Group Manager of Asset and Innovation Programmes, says the scheme has been highly successful. “We’ve had lots of very good feedback from the Government, stakeholders, and passengers. We are well ahead of our targets in terms of take-up and repeat usage.”

More travellers have used SmartGate than was expected. In 2009, the first year of operation, more than 500,000 passengers used SmartGate. By December 2011, 2 million had used the technology. The 3 millionth passenger used SmartGate in May 2012. It is expected that the 4 millionth passenger will have used SmartGate during October 2012. More than 60% of eligible trans-Tasman airline travellers use SmartGate at Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch airports.

In addition to the enthusiastic uptake, the primary processing of passengers at airports is more accurate and the subsequent “per head” costs of processing arriving passengers has fallen, freeing up resources for assessing more-complex risks. More passengers have been processed with no need for extra staffing or space. SmartGate’s capital cost was $15.9 million and it has an operating cost of $7.4 million a year.

Mr Kyne says, that although SmartGate is only for New Zealand and Australian e-passport holders, the technology has shortened the processing time for visitors of other nationalities, because of shorter queues.

And, he says, the project is not over yet. “We are intent on continuous improvement. We see this as the beginning and not the end.”

If he were to embark on this project again, Mr Kyne says that, although Customs did things well the first time around, he would just further reinforce the concept of making sure everyone is focused on the outcome, “even with their different policy or commercial objectives”.

In addition to the very positive feedback from a range of stakeholders, Customs was rated as a top public sector organisation, and ranked third overall in the 2012 Randstad awards. The organisation was also asked to demonstrate SmartGate to the United States Secretary of Homeland Security during her May 2012 visit to New Zealand.

Based on an interview with John Kyne, Group Manager of Asset and Innovation Programmes, on 22 June 2012.

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