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

The Problem

As a leading border security agency, the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority, (‘ICA’), Singapore is built on the twin strategic foci of “Identification” and “Border Security”, to strive in providing first-world security with first-world service. Under “Identification”, our service efforts are guided by the principle concept of Multiple Channels, Minimum Visits and Many Benefits, which it is called 3M. The introduction of Alternate Site Collection (‘ASC') for Singapore passports in 2010 encapsulates the essence of 3M, by providing an alternative passport collection channel, reducing the number of visits to ICA Building (ICAB), and offering convenience to Singapore citizens (SCs). ASC will cover the collection of Singapore Identity Cards (ICs) and Long Term Pass (LTPs) in subsequent phases.

Generally, there is a tendency for SCs to come personally to ICAB for collection of their passports on the same days, i.e. Fridays, Saturdays, eve of public holidays, before and during school holidays. This is a phenomenon which is difficult to change, despite informing SCs to avoid coming during peak days/periods through our website and notification letters. This resistance to change can be attributed to SCs’ fast-paced lifestyles and preference to collect their passports closer to the weekend. Where some countries may impose daily quotas for passport collection, Singapore will not adopt such a bureaucratic approach as our public service is built on a customer-centric model.

The mentioned situation was compounded by the surge in passport applications and collections throughout 2010 due to convergence of the 10-year and 5-year passport renewal cycles. In 2010, the total workload increased to 144% compared to that of 2005. In March 2010 alone, ICA issued over 68,000 passports, which was the highest volume of passports ever issued in a month, in the history of ICA. This translates into an average of over 2,500 passports issued per day that month.

This exponential increase in workload could have negative repercussions if not properly managed. Apart from crowd management issues, staff morale would deteriorate and led to slippages in service standards. Officers at the passport issuance unit were constantly pressurised by the ever-increasing demands for better and faster services. The spike in workload not only stretched our manpower resources, it also put a strain on the physical constraints of ICAB.

As ICA had dismissed the construction of additional physical premises for passport collection due to the prohibitive cost and construction time, we had adopted the 3M concept by outsourcing the collection of ICA secured documents to trusted partners. While ICA had introduced multiple channels for submission of passport applications via mail, drop-in deposit boxes at ICAB, the Internet or over the counters, applicants still had to collect their passports at ICAB. This led ICA to consider Alternate Site Collection (ASC) as a mid- to long-term solution. The ASC initiative has offered customers additional collection venues for Singapore passports, ICs and LTPs outside ICAB and allowed ICA to better manage the increasing crowd size in view of the existing physical infrastructure in the premises.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
ICA recognises that the use of innovation to improve services is a journey and not a destination. Hence, ICA’s current innovations are built upon our innovative journey since 1994. These include the introduction of alternative application channels – via mail and drop-off boxes at ICA in 1994, and the development of the world’s first online passport application system known as “APPLES” (Application for Passport on-line Electronic System) in 2002 which allows the submission of digital photo images and online payment.

ICA continues to write a new chapter in its passport innovation journey with the introduction of ASC on 15 October 2010 to provide citizens additional channels for passport collection. SCs are eligible for ASC if they already have two sets of quality fingerprints registered with ICA. With ASC, SCs can collect their passports from alternate sites outside of ICAB, namely at 29 post offices, known as Singapore Post (‘SingPost’) outlets, located islandwide which have extended operating hours daily at selected outlets - up to 9.30pm, and are opened on weekends and public holidays.

Unlike conventional mailing of passports or courier services in other countries, ASC was designed with the balance of service and security in mind. The use of biometric verification for ASC at the point of collection ensures that passports are collected by the rightful passport owners, thus maintaining passport issuance integrity and upholding public confidence. In addition, ICA receives real-time online system update on the status of passport collection at ASC outlets.

For providing its services, SingPost levies a service fee of S$8 per document collection on the applicant. This fee signifies a commercial relationship between an applicant and SingPost.

In the ASC workflow, ICA’s systems will determine an applicant’s eligibility for ASC after his passport application has been approved before sending him/her the appropriate notification. If an eligible applicant chooses to collect the document at SingPost, he/she will book an online appointment through the website. Once the new passport is collected, ICA’s system will be automatically updated in real time and the old passport will be invalidated by our systems. When processing passport applications, ICA has established a processing hallmark where applicants can collect their passports three working days following ICA’s receipt of their applications. Though the turnaround time would include one additional working day for the delivery of passports from ICAB to designated SingPost outlets, citizens will enjoy convenience and shorter waiting time at ASC sites.

The estimated annual number of SCs who can potentially benefit from ASC is 200,000, or about 30% of our passport population, and this eligible group will increase when the passport population continues growing. The use of ASC by this segment translates to cost savings and cost avoidance of approximately S$0.8 million per year.

By shifting the passport collection activity out of the ICA’s premises, ICA has overcome its physical constraints and achieved quantum leaps in service standards measured by convenience, reliability, transaction speed and security.

Actors and Stakeholders

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

The idea of ASC was mooted by ICA senior management, given the finiteness of ICA’s resources. An ICA team then explored the possibility of diverting a portion of the document collection clientele out of ICAB.

Before embarking on the project, ICA had to address key considerations in areas of security process and procedures, legal issues and service standards. The ICA team thus decided to embark on a three-month trial in February 2009 to test the proof of concept of ASC, to iron out the potential area of concerns. .

Private Sector – SingPost & Contracted Vendors

After assessing the evaluation criteria, the ICA team selected SingPost as the trusted partner of choice for the trial to allow passport collection at alternate sites. The team had taken into consideration SingPost’s proven track record and established credibility in handling secure and valuable items, wide distribution network of outlets and the robust security procedures in place. Five outlets were chosen by SingPost for the trial based on their areas of coverage and the volume of traffic.

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

The ICA-contracted consortium of vendors for the Singapore passport system was also roped in for its technical expertise. It was tasked to design a compatible passport collection system for SingPost, to provide real-time updates on the passport collection to ICA systems. This process was essential to enable the immediate usability of the passport by the holders for departure and for ICA to possess 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 completed at SingPost designated outlets, with no case of unaccounted passport or wrongful issuance of passport. The remaining 51 passports were eventually returned to ICA for the reason that applicants could not collect their passports at the outlets during the stipulated time due to work commitments. 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 SingPost to establish the procedures and measures to be put in place and setting up the compatible passport collection system at SingPost outlets which were done within the project schedule.

In summary, the dedicated team adopted a calibrated approach to ensure that the identity verification of individuals, as well as service standards, would not be compromised in the alternate passport collection project. From brainstorming sessions to the trial and final implementation, the close collaboration between the public service and private sector teams, coupled with engagement of the customers, was the key in ensuring the success of ASC.

(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 a key strategy to shift passport collection activities out of ICAB to better manage the crowd and address future infrastructural constraints. It also offers applicants the convenient option to securely collect documents offsite through biometric verification.

ICA adopts the Trusted Partner Programme strategy by engaging SingPost as ICA’s trusted partner of choice given its track record and established credibility in handling secure and valuable items, islandwide distribution of outlets and their robust security procedures. It was an added advantage that certain SingPost outlets offered extended operating hours and were open on weekends and public holidays.

Before moving into full ASC roll-out, ICA took a prudent and calibrated approach towards this unprecedented initiative. The team embarked on a trial from February to May 2009 at five designated SingPost outlets to test the ASC concept. The trial was meant to assess the capacity of a private trusted 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.

The trial had ended successfully with positive feedback from both participating citizens, as well as SingPost. Security measures that were put through rigorous testing had also withstood scrutiny. The positive results of the trial validated the proof of concept and feasibility of offsite collection of passports without compromising service and security standards.

With the successful trial boosting ICA’s confidence, we took the next step towards calling for a tender for full launch of ASC. As this initiative placed significant emphasis upon a trusted partner’s credentials in providing offsite collection services, the tenderers had to meet the pre-requisites of:-

(i) Established reputable credentials;
(ii) Substantial experience in security storage and handling security documents and items;
(iii) Islandwide coverage; and
(iv) Extended service hours.

Realistically, ICA could not call for an open tender as sensitive information such as operational details on identity authentication, would have to be shared publicly. Being a border security agency, ICA needed to safeguard such information. Consequently, ICA invited qualified vendors to participate in a limited tender for provision of the ASC service. The limited disclosure of information to only established private organisations gave ICA the surety that information would not be exploited or exposed ICA to any operational vulnerability. Based on the full availability of information, the tenderers could make better cost assessments, thereby translating into a fairer public service fee.

After the tender was awarded to SingPost, the ICA team worked closely with the SingPost team to affirm the procedures and measures for implementation. The close collaboration ensured that the ASC project was launched ahead of schedule.

The project had also involved a change of ICA’s paradigm. From a traditional ‘Implementer’ of passport issuance, ICA’s role evolved to become a ‘Standards Setter’ by imposing stringent requirements on SingPost to ensure document security and issuance integrity. The regular checks on the issuance process at SingPost mean that ICA has effectively assumed the role of an ‘Auditor.’

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
From the onset, the ASC project required system development and enhancements to be done concurrently by ICA and the successful tenderer so as to necessitate an adequate project development period allocated in the implementation plan. This gave the added surety that potential tenderers would be willing to commit their interest in providing the ASC service through their tender submissions, hence eliminating the probability of tender non-award.

16 February 2009: Amendments to Passports Act

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 prior to implementing ASC. This included the integrity of the document issuance process, as well as upholding the confidentiality of personal particulars shown on the documents (during offsite issuance) as a matter of public interest.

From a technical perspective, there was a need to explore how fingerprint matching could be done offsite, and how ICA’s systems could be accurately updated when a passport was collected. Security wise, it was imperative that that the passports made their way safely to the trusted partner’s premises, and be stored securely within the outlets. Security considerations also necessitated the compulsory fingerprint verification of an ASC customer. Finally, as passport collection would be performed offsite, we had to ensure that the convenience offered would not degrade the service standards.

With these in mind, the team embarked on a three-month trial from February 2009 with SingPost to test the ASC concept before it came to fruition. The trial was a resounding success with positive feedback from both participating customers, as well as SingPost.

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

Following the trial, in January 2010, ICA called for a limited tender for the provision of ASC services for Singapore passports and other ICA documents including IC and LTP cards. The tender closed in March 2010 and was awarded to SingPost on 15 July 2010 as it met the evaluation criteria, including the safe delivery and storage of passports.

Training was conducted for SingPost officers to familiarise them with passport collection procedures. Regular tests and on-site visits were also conducted to ensure that equipment and systems were in running order and requisite security measures were implemented. The espirit-de-corps between the two teams ensured that ASC was rolled out to SCs on 15 October 2010, way ahead of schedule.

Undoubtedly, ASC has enhanced our customers’ experience with ICA by providing them with an added 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, as well as the preserved confidentiality of the personal particulars on the documents had to be upheld during the offsite issuance of documents.

Legal challenges

Prior to the ASC trial, the legislations did not allow non-government entities to provide the service for the collection of ICA documents. As the trial would entail the collection of passports, ICs and LTPs at alternate venues, the relevant legal provisions, namely the Passports Regulations and National Registration Regulations (for ICs) were revised to give ICA greater operational latitude to allow document collection service offered by non-government entities. This revision ensured that the legislation was progressive, citizen-friendly and yet secure.

Security and procedural considerations and public perception

The underlying security considerations necessitated the compulsory fingerprint verification of an applicant at the trusted partner’s premises to ensure that the document was issued to the rightful person. To allay public concerns that document collection at alternate sites was less secure, the system and procedures for passport collection at ICAB were replicated at SingPost. ICA thus worked on the premise that an applicant intending to collect his document at a trusted partner’s premises must be present to have his identity authenticated through fingerprint verification. With that in mind, the selected trusted partner would need to be equipped with compatible equipment to read and authenticate live fingerprints with those encoded in the passport chip.

Next, as passports were important documents, it was crucial that the awarded tenderer awarded must 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 platforms to illustrate the ease of passport collection process at SingPost. This painted a positive picture for citizens and shaped their mental model of collecting the passporst at ICAB. 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 at minimum cost.

Service level considerations

As passport collection would be performed offsite, the convenience offered must not compromise service standards. Hence, we required the awarded vendor to have dedicated counter(s) for passports collection and senior staff to handle these transactions for accountability. The service standard was also subjected to audits by ICA.

In the 40-year-old history of the Singapore passport, passport collection had never been performed outside of the authority’s premises as a matter of practice, policy and security concerns. With the review of policies governing the issuance of ICA documents as well as amendments to relevant laws, this pioneering ASC project has challenged the traditional paradigm of document collection at ICAB and paved the way for more innovations such as collection of ICA documents at self service kiosks.

(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
Resources Involved

Perceiving ASC as a long-term investment, ICA bore the set-up costs of the systems/equipment such as passport readers and fingerprint scanners for SingPost. ICA’s existing systems were enhanced to receive real-time information processed at ASC outlets. The capital cost incurred was estimated to be S$0.4m per year, and ICA opted to bear the costs to avoid potential exorbitant public fees that private entities might charge if they bore the overheads.

Through internal deployment, ICA set aside dedicated manpower to handle the ASC backroom duties:-

• Preparation of passports for ASC at the end of every work day;
• Stringent quality control/quality assurance checks on the passports;
• Daily handing/taking over of passports with SingPost courier staff; and
• Tracking movement of these passports including unsuccessful collections.

Key Benefits

ASC is undoubtedly a win-win-initiative in the tripartite transactional relationship - for applicants, they enjoy convenience with this additional collection channel; for ICA, our crowd situation is alleviated; and for SingPost, ASC is an extension of their passport application service, providing an end-to-end citizen service experience with a boost to their bottomline. By coming onboard this unprecedented initiative, SingPost had also established itself as ICA’s trusted partner.

Ultimately, ASC has been developed with our customers in mind. With ASC, citizens can now apply and collect their passports at a SingPost outlet near them, beyond working hours. From a single collection venue, citizens now have 29 more choices, effectively increasing collection windows by 2,900%. This gives the user choice and ensures that operations do not hinge on single modes. IC and LTP holders including foreigners will also benefit from ASC initiative in the next phase.

Currently, about 30% of passport applicants are eligible for ASC. Over time, the eligibility cohort will increase and we will see a greater drop in applicants coming to ICAB. This will further ease the space and manpower challenges faced in handling the ever increasing workload.

Based on savings accrued from ICA’s land and manpower avoidance, as well as time and transport savings for citizens, cost savings and cost avoidance is estimated to be S$0.8 million per year. If the full potential of ASC is realised, cost savings can be astronomical.

ASC generates a positive public perception of the Singapore civil service being a forerunner in innovation. In short, ASC is the first development where an identification document is legislated for collection outside an issuing authority. Singapore is also the world’s first country to allow secure passport collection at trusted partner’s premises through biometric identification with real-time system update of the passport status to allow immediate use at Singapore’s checkpoints. While other countries may use postal agents to “mail” passports to applicants, none have pushed frontiers to biometrically verify the identity of recipients at offsite locations. The Singapore ASC initiative is therefore a first-of-its-kind development, and ICA continually engages SingPost in ensuring that all procedures and security requirements are strictly abided to through a tight regiment of audits and reviews.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
The success of the ASC initiative sets the foundation to adopt alternate site issuance of other documents to residents and foreigners. The ASC has also paved the way for other Singapore government departments issuing secure identification documents, e.g. work passes etc to re-look at their own mental models and explore similar possibilities for their customers.

And the journey of expanding the collection options for ICA documents is far from over. The ASC concept is now expanded to offer collection of ICA documents via the self help automated Collection machine (iCollect). Believed to be the first of its kind, iCollect allows SCs, permanent and foreign residents to self-collect their passports, ICs and LTP cards after their identities have been verified via – fingerprint verification and facial recognition. An iCollect machine has been installed at eLobby of ICAB to allow collection of Singapore passports. Other ICA documents will be added in the next phases. Smaller iCollect machines can be installed at trusted partners’ premises if there is demand. The financial sector can also replicate the same concept for collection of bank credit cards in addition to the traditional delivery mode of postal services.

Our efforts to delight our customers have not gone unnoticed. ASC had brought recognition to ICA in the local arena with several awards ranging from Ministry level to National level. On the Ministry level, the initiative bagged the Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs 3i Award, and on the National level, we had been honoured the prestigious Singapore Public Service 21 Best Project Award. Apart from recognition within the public sector, ASC project also clinched an innovation award introduced by the Singapore Infocomm Trade Federation (SITF) Awards.

Since its roll-out, ICA has also received requests from local and foreign government departments to learn more about the thinking and approach for ASC initiative and other ICA’s innovative projects. They included Canada, Australia, New Zealand Malaysia, Mauritius, Tanzania, Mozambique, Indonesia, Korea, Bhutan, Uzbekistan, etc.

Evidently, our investments in innovation created synergies that enable the conceptualization and implementation of the ASC. ICA’s development and introduction of biometric-enabled passports (2006) that contained a microchip with the fingerprint records of the applicant also made it possible for the offsite biometric verification of the rightful holder at ASC during collection without the need to divulge ICA’s database of confidential records to an external party. In short, when we connect the dots, we see that innovation begets more innovation.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
At ICA, we believe that a model public organisation has to be forward-looking in anticipating future customer and operational demands. Once the “Dare to Dream” trait has been instilled in officers, they must then embrace the next trait of “Dare to Challenge”, and take bold steps towards unconventional wisdom. Through the ASC initiative, ICA officers have displayed the “Can-Do” attitude, and persevered with the belief that the unprecedented project is possible.

To create buy-in from officers, the team communicated to them the potential benefits of the initiative. On the customer front, ICA did not neglect the mental model that citizens would cling to – secure collection of passports at immigration authority’s premises – and undertook the difficult task of shifting paradigms and shaping public behaviour towards accepting ASC. This was done by promoting ASC, i.e. increased convenience with more collection points, even after office hours/weekends and shorter waiting time. Judging from the rising take-up rate, ICA has successfully changed customers’ perspective to be more attuned to offsite passport collection.

By leveraging on SingPost’s reputable marketing prowess, ASC enjoys high visibility and recognition island-wide. As of Oct 2012, over 55,000 citizens had used the service. A post-implementation survey conducted by SingPost in February 2012 showed that respondents were satisfied with the ASC initiative. 98% of the respondents rated the ease of ASC service as good/excellent. A majority (72%) collected their passports at SingPost for the accessible and efficient service.

From the onset, ICA will be able to achieve 30% take-up rate from eligible passport applicants in 5 years’ time, before the current contract expires in 2015. The take-up rate rose from less than 10% in October 2010 when it was introduced, to about 16% now. ICA will be implementing the offsite collection of other ICA documents in 2013 for more people to enjoy the service.

The ASC equation is only as strong as its weakest link and every facet of it must be considered before implementation. Thus, while the ‘software’ element was resolved through effective communication, ASC would not have been successful without leveraging on hardware enhancements. The meticulous and tireless efforts of the technical vendor, ICA and SingPost finally installed a system that replicated the passport collection procedures at ICAB, and assured real-time updates to ICA’s system.

From ASC, ICA has also learnt that to achieve a win-win situation, we must engage the people and the trusted partners from private sector. The reality is that the success of a public service requires the cooperation of the stakeholders involved. When customers and SingPost recognised the benefits of ASC, they collaborated actively with ICA. Apart from these direct parties, indirect collaborations were also forged with SingPost’s working partners on ASC, such as financial institutions etc. This generates positive reputation and added confidence for ICA.

As this project shows, the innovative application of processes and technology, coupled with the prudent selection of a trusted partner, have significantly enhanced a public service, and paved the way for future possibilities.

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:   Singapore 208718
City:   Singapore
State/Province:   Singapore
Country:   Singapore

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