Alternate Site Collection for Singapore Passports (ASC)
Singapore Immigration & Checkpoints Authority

The Problem

The issues of crowd management, coupled with physical space constraints were the main factors that pushed ICA into the ASC initiative.

The public waiting area at the Passports Unit can only hold 500 people comfortably at any one time. However, there was a tendency for Singapore citizens to collect their passports at the same time i.e. Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays, eves of public holidays and during school holidays. Despite informing citizens through our website and notification letters on the peak periods to avoid, it was impossible to change human behaviour entirely. This resistance to change could be attributed to the fast-paced lifestyles that Singapore citizens adopt, and prefer to collect their passports closer to the weekend. Where some countries may advocate the introduction of daily collection quotas on their citizens, Singapore is unable to adopt this approach as the public service is deemed to be serving the public at large and expected to be customer-centric.

While ICA had introduced multiple channels for submission of passport applications through mail, by drop-in deposit boxes at ICA Building, via the Internet or over the counters, there has been no option for applicants to collect their passports besides service counters at ICA premises. The ASC initiative is therefore necessary in view that the infrastructure and space in the building can no longer take in increasing crowd numbers. Also, the prohibitive cost and the lengthy wait period in constructing another building for passport collection were taken into consideration when exploring the alternatives of ASC, and these were better-suited as mid- to long-term solutions. In fact, 12 March 2010’s incident of ICA’s closing the doors to walk-in customers for passport services at 3.40pm made the team more determined to speed up the implementation of ASC.

Briefly, more than 3,600 queue tickets for passport services were issued as of 3.30pm on 12 March 2010. It was 125% more than the usual capacity of 1,600 customers a day. As the crowd in the passport collection office built up to more than 1,000 in the waiting area, we had to stop accepting walk-in customers. This move to cease the passport service on that day was necessary to prevent overcrowding at ICA’s premises for the safety of our customers.

To worsen matters, the Passports Unit experienced a surge in passport workload throughout 2010 due to convergence in the 10-year and 5-year passport renewal cycles. For 2010, the total workload was a 144% increase from that in 2005. In March 2010 alone, we had issued over 68,000 passports, the highest volume of passports ever issued in a month, in the history of Passports Unit. This amounted to over 2,500 passports issued in a single day.

Apart from overcrowding issues, staff morale might be affected, leading to slippages in service standards. In addition to the perennial issue of crowd management, the staff were pressurised by the ever increasing customer demands of better and faster services. With this in mind, the idea to outsource the collection of ICA documents to trusted partners was mooted.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
In 2008, ASC for Singapore passports was mooted to tackle the overcrowding problem in ICA Building. The collection of passports at alternate sites is a first-of-its-kind project, which allows secure collection of passports at alternate sites through biometric identification with real-time system update on the status of passport collection. It was successfully implemented on 15 October 2010, just three months after the tender was awarded, and six months ahead of schedule. Eligible Singapore citizens are allowed to collect their passports from 29 SingPost outlets strategically located across the island. Citizens would be eligible to enjoy the additional option to collect their passports at SingPost outlets if they have two sets of quality fingerprints registered with ICA.

Passport collection at SingPost outlets entails a service fee imposed by SingPost as a fee applicants need to pay for the service of convenience. This service fee, currently set at S$10 per document collected, signifies a commercial relationship between an applicant and SingPost.

For better illustration, the following is the workflow of the passport collection procedure alternate sites.

• After an applicant has applied for a passport and his application is approved, our systems will determine his eligibility for ASC. The appropriate notification form will be sent.

• If an eligible applicant chooses to collect the document at a SingPost outlet, he will have to book an appointment through our online booking system, which will automatically provide him with an ASC option and link.

• Once the new passport is successfully collected, the passport system will be automatically updated in real-time. The old passport will be invalidated automatically by our systems. SingPost staff will then be able to invalidate the old passport physically.

In processing passport applications, ICA had established a three-working-day processing hallmark, meaning that applicants are able to collect their Singapore passports three working days following ICA’s receipt of their passport application. Though the turnaround time would include one additional working day for the delivery of the passports from ICA Building to the designated SingPost outlets, Singapore citizens have enjoyed convenience and shorter waiting time at ASC sites if they choose to make use of the alternate service.

With the launch of the ASC project, the estimated number of Singapore citizens who can potentially benefit from the initiative is about 200,000 yearly. This constitutes about 30% of the Singapore citizen population, who has been issued with passports with two fingerprint records in ICA’s database and is eligible to collect their passports from SingPost outlets.

Since the introduction of the first Singapore passport 40 years ago, passport collection had never ventured out of the immigration authorities’ premises for security reasons. With the careful review of the affected policies governing the issuance of ICA documents as well as appropriate amendments made to the relevant laws, the typical mental model that passports must be issued by passport officers within the immigration authority’s premises and that applicants are required to physically visit the passport office for passport collection was then challenged and changed.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
Public Sector – ICA

The idea of ASC was first mooted by ICA senior management, having recognised the finiteness of ICA’s resources. The instruction was cascaded for the ground to explore the possibility of diverting a portion of the document collection clientele out of ICA.

Before embarking on the project, there were several considerations which the team had to cover, in terms of security, process and procedures, legal issues and the non-compromising of service standards. The ICA team thus made the call to embark on a trial to test the proof of concept of ASC, as well as to iron out the outstanding considerations.

Private Sector – SingPost & Contracted Vendors

After assessing the key criteria, the ICA team selected SingPost as our trusted partner of choice for the trial to allow applicants to collect passports at alternate sites. The team had taken into consideration SingPost’s track record and established credibility in handling secure items, wide distribution network of outlets, extended operating hours and the recognised security procedures already in place. The trial was offered at five designated SingPost outlets at strategic locations that covered each sector of Singapore. These outlets were chosen by SingPost based on their areas of coverage within the island and the volume of traffic at each outlet.

During its initial implementation, teething problems such as SingPost staff’s unfamiliarity with the passport issuing processes were addressed by ICA and SingPost accordingly. This lent credence and confidence to the offsite collection process.

The ICA-contracted consortium of vendors providing for the Singapore passport system was also roped in for its technical expertise. It was tasked by ICA to design a compatible passport collection system for the 29 SingPost outlets that should replicate the passport collection procedures at ICA Building, and allow real-time updates to the ICA system. This was essential to ensure that the passport could be used for travelling immediately and for ICA to possess the most updated information regarding these important documents.

Our Customers – Singapore Citizens

A total of 1,281 Singapore passport applicants participated in the 2009 trial. Of these, 1,230 successful passport collections were done at SingPost, with no case of unaccounted passport or wrongful issuance. The remaining 51 passport collections were eventually returned to ICA for two main reasons, i.e. applicants could not collect their passports at ICA during the stipulated time due to work commitment and had to collect their passports much later at ICA Building or applicants subsequently requested to collect their passports at ICA Building instead. Passports which were not collected within the stipulated timeframe were returned to ICA for security reasons.

Close collaboration between the public and private sectors - ICA, SingPost & Vendors

Following the successful trial, the tender was awarded to SingPost on 15 July 2010. The ICA team then worked closely with the SingPost team to affirm the procedures and measures to be put in place and to ensure that various activities related to the project were running according to schedule.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
ASC for Singapore passports was mooted as a strategy to bring passport collection out of the ICA Building to tackle the physical constraints within ICA Building. It offers applicants the option to collect documents without having to queue at ICA Building, and allows offsite issuance of ICA documents with biometric verification using data encoded in the document.

Under ICA’s Trusted Partner Programme, SingPost was ICA’s trusted partner of choice given its track record and established credibility in handling secure items, wide distribution network of outlets across the island and the recognised security procedures already in place. It was an added advantage that the extended operating hours available at certain SingPost outlets were up to 9.30pm and some outlets operate on weekends and public holidays.

Before moving into concrete plans for full ASC, ICA took a prudent approach towards the unprecedented initiative. A decision was first made to embark on a trial which commenced in February 2009 for three months at five designated SingPost outlets to test the ASC concept. The trial was meant to assess the capacity of a private entity in carrying out an extension of ICA’s function, and to address any security, technical or operational concerns. It also allowed ICA to market test the service take-up rates and demand.

Based on the feedback gathered from the public who had participated in the trial and SingPost, the trial was a success. The positive results validated the proof of concept and its feasibility of allowing the collection of passports offsite without compromising service and security standards.

The successful trial boosted the team’s confidence and they took the next step towards calling for a tender for the full launch of ASC. Realistically, ICA could not call for an open tender as sensitive information such as operational details on authenticating a person’s identity, etc, would have to be shared publicly. Being a border security agency, ICA cannot be assured of the safeguarding of shared information by potential bidders.

Thus, ICA invited only pre-qualified vendors to participate in a limited tender for the provision of this offsite collection service. The disclosure of information only to established commercial organisations with track records of having trusted relationships with their clienteles gave ICA the surety that the information would not be exploited to expose operational vulnerability. With the full availability of information for tenderers to assess their participation, they could make better cost assessments, thereby translating to a fairer service fee imposed to the public.

After the tender was awarded to SingPost, the ICA team worked closely with their team to affirm the measures to be implemented. Weekly meetings were held to ensure that project activities were running on schedule, and training sessions were conducted to familiarise SingPost staff with the procedures. In addition, regular tests and on-site visits were conducted to ensure that systems were in running order and the requisite security measures were implemented. The close collaboration between the two teams ensured that the ASC project was launched ahead of schedule.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
From the onset, it was clearly laid down that the ASC project required concurrent system development and enhancements by both ICA and the successful tenderer, which necessitated the adequate project development period allocated in the project implementation plan. This gave the added surety that potential tenderers would be willing to commit their interest in providing the alternate venue collection service through their tender submissions, hence eliminating the probability of tender non-award. The timeline was also aggressive in view of the worsening infrastructural constraints in ICA Building, and the tenderers’ ability in meeting the intended implementation date had to be taken into consideration in the selection.
16 February 2009: Amendment to Passports Act

Legal wise, as the then-existing legislations did not provide for the collection of passports from private entities, the Singapore Passports Act /Regulations had to be revised for greater operational latitude to allow offsite collection at non-government entities. The amended legislation was subsequently operationalised on 16 February 2009.

February to May 2009: Three-month ASC trial at 5 SingPost outlets

ICA had to tackle several operational considerations that had to be explored at length prior to implementing the initiative. This included the integrity of the document issuance process, as well as the confidentiality of the personal particulars shown on the documents that had to be upheld during the issuance of documents offsite as a matter of public interest. Hence, a three-month trial was undertaken at five SingPost outlets to test the proof of concept of ASC.

From a technical perspective, there was a need to look into how thumbprint matching could be done offsite, and how ICA’s systems could be accurately updated when a passport has been collected. Security wise, it was imperative that that the passports made their way safely to the trusted partner, and be stored securely within the outlets. Security considerations also necessitated the compulsory fingerprint verification of an applicant who wished to collect a document at the trusted partner’s premises. Finally, as passport collection would be performed offsite, we had to ensure that the convenience offered would not be compromised by degradation in service standards.

With these considerations in mind, the team decided to embark on a three-month trial from February to May 2009 with SingPost to test the ASC concept before it came to fruition. The trial ended successfully with positive feedback from both the participating customers, as well as SingPost.

January to October 2010: Roll-out of ASC for Singapore passports and other documents

Following the successful trial, in January 2010, ICA called for a limited tender for the provision of alternate venue collection services for the Singapore passport as well as other ICA documents including the Identity Card and Long Term Pass. The tender closed in March 2010 and the tender was awarded to SingPost on 15 July 2010 as it met the evaluation criteria, including the safe delivery and storage of passports.

Briefings and training sessions were conducted for SingPost officers to familiarise them with passport collection procedures. In addition, regular tests and on-site visits were conducted to ensure that equipment and systems were in running order and the requisite security measures were implemented respectively. The close collaboration between the two teams ensured that the ASC project was rolled out to Singapore citizens on 15 October 2010, way ahead of schedule.

Undoubtedly, ASC has and will continue to enhance our customers’ experience with ICA by providing them with an additional mode of collecting their documents in a convenient and secure manner even after office hours.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
The issuance of passports is one of ICA’s critical functions with regard to the identification and registration of persons. The integrity of the document issuance process and confidentiality of the personal particulars shown on the documents had to be upheld during the issuance of documents offsite to safeguard public interests. Riding on the concept of ASC, the option to pick up documents offsite will be extended to Singapore Identity Cards for citizens and Long Term Pass Cards for foreigners in Singapore.

Prior to the ASC trial, the then-existing legislations did not provide for the collection of ICA documents from private entities. As the trial would entail the collection of passports and ICs at alternate venues, the relevant legal provisions, namely the Passports Regulations and National Registration Regulations were revised to word them widely to give ICA operational latitude to allow the documents to be collected from non-government entities. This revision, though had broken new ground from conventional passport collection, had not compromised the limitations of the law.

The underlying security considerations necessitated the compulsory fingerprint verification of an applicant who wished to collect a document at the trusted partner’s premises. This would ensure that the document was issued to the rightful person. ICA thus worked on the premise that an applicant intending to collect his document at a trusted partner’s premises must be present in person to have his identity authenticated through fingerprint verification. With that in mind, the successful trusted partners would need the appropriate equipment to read and authenticate both fingerprints which were embedded in the passport chip. Only then, ICA could be assured that the documents were issued to the rightful applicant. To allay public concerns that collection of passports at the alternate sites was less secure, the procedures for passport collection at ICA Building were replicated at SingPost.

Next, as passports are secure documents, it was important that they made their way safely to the trusted partner. ICA thus required that the tenderer awarded with the service contract must undertake ensure safe delivery of the documents from ICA to the designated collection outlets, and their secured storage within the outlets. The partner’s full security procedures and arrangements for delivery, storage and issuance would be subjected to regular audits by ICA.

ICA also rode on public communications to illustrate the ease of the passport collection process at SingPost. This painted a positive picture for citizens and tweaked their mental model of collecting the travel document at ICA. SingPost tapped on existing relationships with its partners and offered costing promotions to entice take-up rate of the new service. This allowed SingPost to draw maximum mileage from the publicity at minimum cost.

As passport collection would be performed offsite, we had to ensure that convenience offered would not be compromised by degradation in service standards. Hence, we required that the awarded trusted vendor have dedicated counter(s) for passport collection and senior staff to handle passport transactions for accountability. The collection service was also subjected to audits by ICA officers.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
For project funding, ICA bore the set-up costs of about S$2 million over five years. This was in view of the profit orientation of private entities, which might lead to exorbitant service fees if they had to procure the equipment. Technically, enhancements were made to existing systems to interface the information that was captured by ASC outlets in real time. Hardware such as passport readers, and software licences, were also sponsored by ICA.

In terms of manpower, ICA set aside about 16 staff to handle backroom duties:

• Trace passports for ASC collection at the end of every workday;
• Conduct quality checks to ensure that fingerprints (encoded in passport chip) are easily verifiable during collection;
• Daily handing/taking over of passports with SingPost;
• Ensure proper tracking of these passports; and
• Handling ASC-related enquiries.

ASC is a win-win-win initiative in the tripartite relationship: for applicants, they enjoy convenience with this additional collection channel; for ICA, the crowd situation at ICA Building is alleviated; and for SingPost, it enables them to expand on the passport application service, providing an end-to-end service experience for citizens with a boost to their bottomline. By coming onboard this unprecedented initiative, SingPost has established itself as ICA’s trusted partner.

Ultimately, ASC was developed for our customers. As citizens’ lifestyles become more fast-paced with juggling family life and careers, ASC promises increased convenience at minimal costs, with them able to collect ICA documents closer to home at their timing preference. From a single collection venue, they now have 29 more choices, increasing the collection windows by 2,900%!

Currently, an annual 200,000 citizens, constituting 30% of our applicants are eligible to collect their passports from SingPost. With 30% of them being eligible for alternate site collection, it translates to cost savings and cost avoidance of close to S$0.8 million per year. This sum is accrued from land and manpower avoidance cost for ICA, as well as time and transport savings for citizens. If the full potential of ASC is realised, cost savings can be astronomical!

Rolling out ASC also painted a positive public perception of the civil service being a forerunner in innovation. In short, ASC is the first development in Singapore where an identification document is legislated for collection outside of an issuing authority. Singapore is also the first country in the world to allow secure passport collection at trusted partner’s premises through biometric identification with real-time update of the passport status to allow immediate use of the passport. While other countries use postal service agents to “mail” passports to applicants, no country has pushed frontiers to biometrically verify the identity of passport recipients offsite and real-time update of the passport status.
From the onset, ICA will be able to achieve 30% take-up rate from eligible passport applicants in five years. The take-up rate rose from less than 10% in October 2010 when it was introduced, to about 14% now. From early next year, ASC will be rolling out offsite collection of other ICA documents.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
With the success of the ASC initiative for passport collection, the process will be further enhanced to issue Identity Cards for Singapore citizens and the Long Term Pass Cards for foreigners who reside or work in Singapore.. Other ministries and government departments, which issue secure identification documents e.g. work passes, can also adopt the same initiative.

Now that ICA has successfully tried and tested the feasibility of off-site collection of ID documents, we believe that other Singapore ministries and government departments which issue secure identification documents, e.g. work passes, can also adopt the same initiative.

And since its roll-out, we have also received requests from our foreign counterparts to learn more about our implementation of ASC to explore customising the initiative in their countries.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
At ICA, we believe that a model public organisation and civil servants have to be forward-looking in anticipating future customer and operational demands. Once the “Dare to Dream” trait has been instilled in our officers, they must then not be afraid to embrace the next natural trait “Dare to Challenge”, and take bold steps towards unconventional wisdom. Through the implementation of the ASC initiative, ICA officers have also evidently displayed the “Can-Do” attitude, and have persevered with the belief that the unprecedented project is possible.

Where the officers’ spirit to launch a successful ASC implementation was of essence, internal buy-in was achieved when the potential benefits of the initiative were clearly illustrated and communicated to the ground. On the customer front, ICA did not neglect the mental model that Singapore citizens would cling to – secure collection of passports at immigration authority’s premises – and undertook the difficult task of shifting customers’ paradigms and shaping public behaviour towards accepting ASC. This was done by promoting the advantages of ASC, which includes increased convenience with collecting passport nearer to their homes, even after normal office hours/weekends , shortened waiting time and more collection points. Judging from the rising take-up rate, it is evident that ICA has successfully changed the customers’ perspective to be more attuned to offsite collection of their passports.

The ASC equation is only as strong as its weakest link and every facet of it must be considered before its full roll-out in Singapore. Thus, while the ‘software’ portion of the ASC equation was resolved through effective communication, ASC would not have been successful without leveraging on technology to enhance the current systems. The meticulous and tireless efforts of the technical vendor, ICA and SingPost finally worked out a passport collection system that replicated the collection procedures at ICA Building, and assured real-time transmission of updates to the main ICA system.

Arising from the ASC project, ICA had also learnt that an effective approach to a win-win situation must also involve the people and the public sector. The reality is that the success of a public service requires the participation and cooperation of the stakeholders involved. When the customers and SingPost recognised the new initiative that would be beneficial to them, they would collaborate actively with ICA. Apart from these direct parties, indirect collaborations were also forged with SingPost’s working partners on ASC, such as the financial institutions etc. This generates positive reputation and added confidence for ICA.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Singapore Immigration & Checkpoints Authority
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Tan Kok Guan
Title:   Director (Citizen Services)  
Telephone/ Fax:   +65 6391 6302 / +65 6293 4280
Institution's / Project's Website:
Address:   ICA Building, 10 Kallang Road, #08-00
Postal Code:   208718
City:   Singapore
Country:   Singapore

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