Part 4: Tools and resources available to the agencies

Border security: Using information to process passengers.

In this Part, we discuss whether:

Summary of our findings

There are systems, tools, and resources available to help the agencies make effective use of the information discussed in Part 3. However, there are some limitations, which means that not all processes are as efficient as they could be. In a changing global environment where threats, technological advances, and increased passenger numbers and baggage allowances can increase the demands on frontline staff, being able to work efficiently is particularly important.

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 and MPI need to continue to improve frontline staff rostering arrangements and workforce planning to ensure that they can make best use of staffing resources in the future.

Customs and MPI have recently updated their training programmes. We consider that the initial training provided to frontline staff is comprehensive and fit for purpose. However, training of new staff at Customs should include a component on the role and responsibility of MPI, and vice versa.

Some systems could be upgraded

The functionality of the information technology (IT) systems used by the agencies varies. Customs' system, CusMod, works well for the passenger processing function we looked at. It 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 allows staff to access all Customs' systems from one place. CusMod 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.

The main system used by Immigration New Zealand is the Application Management System, which supports the visa management function. The Application Management System interacts with CusMod to create and update passenger information and place alerts.14

Although Immigration New Zealand considers the Application Management System to be sound, it acknowledges that it was not designed to accommodate the growing systems requirements of border operations, including targeting risks, risk assessment, and workflow management. These systems needs are being addressed through other system solutions. The Application Management System will need to be kept under review to ensure that it is fit for purpose.15

Immigration New Zealand also uses the Automated Targeting System – Global to collect Passenger Name Record Data. As described in paragraph 2.5, Customs uses the Automated Targeting System – Global to automatically assess passenger details against established risk profiles. Because each agency assesses different risks, this system does not fully meet Immigration New Zealand's needs. To assess specific immigration risks, Immigration New Zealand has to manually risk profile passengers based on its risk profiles. Immigration New Zealand is looking to replace this system with one that is more suited to assessing immigration risks. In the meantime, Immigration New Zealand and Customs are looking to establish common risk profiles to minimise any duplication of effort. 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.

MPI is still using a number of legacy systems from when it was the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Although these systems are usable, they are slow and, at times, unreliable. Having multiple systems also means it takes staff a long time to find and use the right information. 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 not user friendly. The system is cumbersome and creates inefficiencies for MPI staff. Because the system is difficult to use, data entry is time consuming. Contractors are employed to manually enter information into the system from handwritten data produced by frontline staff. As discussed in Part 3, there are also limitations to what can be directly entered into MPI Pax.

Each agency collects, analyses, and uses data separately, in part because their systems are not fully integrated. Although not all systems should be fully integrated, there is room for some systems to be further integrated throughout the agencies. One benefit of this would be reducing the time each agency takes in responding to requests for information from the other agencies.

The agencies have successfully demonstrated their ability to work together on international trade. Customs and MPI co-created the Joint Border Management System, a multi-agency programme to make trade and passenger border crossings effective and efficient. It was initially designed as a trade system, with the option of adding the passenger information later.

We are aware that there are plans to add passenger targeting functionality to this system in the future. If it is added, this functionality should improve information sharing between Customs and MPI when processing incoming passengers.

Customs and Quarantine officers are getting better tools and resources

Although frontline staff generally have adequate tools to do their jobs, the tools are not always the most up to date. More modern tools would enable frontline staff to process incoming passengers more efficiently.

In mid-2015, Customs trialled 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.

MPI's legacy systems are incompatible with the operating software of mobile devices. Some devices are provided, but these have limited capabilities. System upgrades would be required before it would be feasible to provide staff with these devices. Providing frontline staff with mobile devices would improve efficiency.

MPI has acknowledged that some of the tools that frontline staff use, such as radios, are outdated. There is a project under way to ensure that frontline staff have more modern and reliable equipment, including new radios. This project will be rolled out by the end of 2017.

Tools are not limited to technology. Detector dogs enable frontline staff to assess incoming passengers for risk much more effectively and efficiently than screening by humans. Customs and MPI have increased their number of detector dogs in the past 18 months to help with screening the increasing numbers of passengers.

It can be difficult to get access to translators, which can affect the ability of frontline staff to process passengers efficiently. With an increase of passengers coming from non-English-speaking countries, some passengers are waiting for hours until a translator is available to aid staff who are speaking directly to the passengers or Quarantine officers who need to interpret and translate labels on goods, medicines, and food products.

The agencies are focusing on new and emerging technologies to identify potential risks and increase the efficiency of processing passengers. Customs has Smartgate technology at the border. Smartgate uses facial recognition software to identify passport holders from the Border Five countries. It enables timely processing of passengers and means that Customs can deploy frontline staff more efficiently to other areas, allowing staff to focus on risk.

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.


We found that facilities were generally adequate for frontline staff to process passengers at the ports we visited. However, in some instances, facilities were not fit for purpose. At one port, MPI detector dogs were housed in kennels offsite, and there was a lack of private rooms to conduct interviews. Although we acknowledge that the agencies are not responsible for facilities at major ports, they will need to continue to work with the air and sea port companies to improve facilities, where appropriate, so they are fit for purpose.

Deployment of staff could be more efficient

Increasing staff numbers will not always be practical. Instead, the agencies can focus on how to best use the resources they do have. The agencies are aware of this and have recently prepared some initiatives to enable them to better target frontline resources based on risk. Examples include the Trusted Traveller Initiative16 and the Accredited Cruise Ship Programme, as well as technological advances, such as Smartgate. These allow officers to focus on more resource-intensive activities, such as in-depth questioning, baggage searches, patrolling, and attending or delivering training.

An intelligence-led approach by Customs means that it can carry out risk assessments of most passengers before they arrive in New Zealand. This approach enables it to roster staff according to risk.

Customs has recently completed a transformation programme that has restructured and refocused staff resources so the right numbers are deployed at the right time to the right places. The programme also introduced an Assistant Customs officer role that is designed to make better use of resources. When we were conducting our field work, Customs was still filling vacancies in the major ports.

Both Customs and MPI are working on improvements to ensure that the deployment of frontline staff is done more efficiently. For Customs, the restructure will not be fully operational until the Assistant Customs officers are trained and a workforce planning tool is put in place to plan and organise staff rotation, training, and deployment. There are plans to have this tool working by the end of 2017. MPI is further behind because it is still in collective employment negotiations. However, MPI has plans to put in place a workforce planning tool in 2017/18.

Customs and Quarantine officers receive appropriate training

The training of frontline staff is a strength for Customs and MPI. Both agencies have implemented new and improved training programmes for new starters, including classroom learning, online modules, and on-the-job training.

Customs has improved its training programme to align with its restructure. MPI's training programme has been updated and it has recently introduced a career development framework.

Although Customs and MPI's training programmes are comprehensive, in our view the formal training provided on each other's roles and responsibilities should be strengthened. This training could improve mutual understanding and collaboration between the two agencies.

Recommendation 1
We recommend that, as part of their training, new frontline staff for the Ministry for Primary Industries and the New Zealand Customs Service be fully briefed on the roles and responsibilities of both agencies.

14: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (2015), Business process design document – Manage Applications, Wellington, page 56.

15: This is outlined in our April 2017 report, Immigration New Zealand: Delivering transformational change.

16: The Trusted Traveller Initiative is a way of identifying low-risk passengers and allowing these passengers to be processed more quickly, with less interaction with frontline staff on arrival.