MCA Management Awards 2009: International Winner


Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

From Taipei to Islamabad and Jamaica to Mumbai, the world comes to this little island of Britain. And many come seeking to stay for more than just a holiday. Around 2.75 million visa applications are received each year - 50% more than just a decade ago. The UK Border Agency is tasked with processing these applications - a critical role in allowing skilled workers to come into the country while protecting the nation's borders against terrorism, organised crime and influxes of illegal immigrants.

In 2005, the Government announced that all visa applicants would be expected to provide biometric details by the end of 2007. The UK Border Agency knew it needed to incorporate this requirement into existing improvements to enable applications to be made over the web, by post, in person or via an agent in the country of origin. It also knew it needed a partner that could provide a robust technology system and roll out changes globally.

CSC and the UK Border Agency put together a governance model for the project that combined the operational expertise of the Agency with the programme and technical expertise of CSC. Applying lessons learned from previous work implementing visa systems in Europe and the US, CSC established 30 new visa application centres (VACs) in 14 countries across Europe, the Americas, North Africa and the Middle East under the WorldBridge banner. Information services are provided to another 87 countries through websites, e-mail and multilingual call centres.

The five-year business process outsourcing deal signed with CSC stated that biometrics-based visa applications had to be introduced to the 30 VACs by 2008 - within just 10 months.

Jamaica was the first VAC to go live - in the middle of the busiest time of year for visa applications there. But the deadline was met, and the lessons learned in Jamaica provided CSC with a repeatable model - 'VAC-in-a-box' - that it could use elsewhere, though not always without modification. 'Not only were we on a very steep learning curve, we also found that aspects of the model that worked well in Europe didn't necessarily work well in the Middle East,' admits CSC's John Aspinall, who was responsible for delivering the programme. 'But by the time we got to our final implementations in Canada, Turkey and Lebanon, the Vac-in-a-box solution was working well.'

The ambitious roll-out of secure biometrics collection to visa application centres around the world was completed successfully, three months ahead of schedule and significantly under budget. CSC personnel now sit on the UK Border Agency's international board.

'We would have been naive to think that such a roll-out could have been achieved without a few teething problems,' says Geoff Lockwood, the Agency programme director, 'but the partnership with CSC has developed in ways that mean we're working together effectively and solving issues as they occur.' At the time of writing, 3.2 million biometric details had been logged. More than 20,000 visa applicants had been connected to earlier immigration cases and asylum requests, and more than 4,400 cases of identity-swapping had been detected.

The outsourcing arrangements mean the UK Border Agency can spend less time on administrative functions and more time on analysing the data it receives and making better, more informed decisions. And end-users can now apply online or by phone, and applications are processed significantly quicker than before.


The UK Border Agency, responsible for processing 2.75 million visa applications a year, was required to collect biometric details for its database. Having set up 30 overseas visa application centres (VACs) for the Agency, CSC drew on its expertise to bring biometric-based applications to each centre in turn. Adapting its 'Vac-in-a-box' template as required, it completed the ambitious roll-out three months early and well under budget. For the UK Border Agency, it means keener vigilance, smarter decision-making and faster processing.

- Show commitment to meeting programme deadlines, whatever it takes;

- Design repeatable solutions that can be constantly refined and customised;

- Invest time and effort in establishing strong multi-level working relationships.

International award sponsored by Investigo

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

What are Simon Roberts’ big 3 challenges at Sainsbury’s?

The grocer's new CEO has taken the reins at a critical time.

Should CEOs get political?

The protests that have erupted over George Floyd’s murder have prompted a corporate chorus of...

“You literally have to rewrite your job description”

One minute briefing: In hard times, your network becomes more important than ever, says Prezi...

5 bad habits to avoid when leading remotely

In a crisis, it can be hard to recognise when you've taken your eye off...

A top-level guide to scenario planning

COVID creates unprecedented uncertainty, but there are tried and tested ways of preparing for an...

Is it favouritism to protect an employee no one likes?

The Dominic Cummings affair shows the dangers of double standards, but it’s also true that...