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Insights Making digital the norm when we talk borders

If Brexit wasn’t enough of an overhaul to the UK’s borders, then the global pandemic has definitely helped to cause a shift in how we view our island nation. Where the focus may have been on control of import and export of goods, and how this might affect business and consumer prices, the economic shock has meant other elements, including tourism, have been affected too.

As the UK begins to scope out what it wants for its future borders, we have the opportunity to think, and importantly, do, differently. Freeports, biometrics and new border security technology are all on the cards, but technology advancement is racing ahead of adoption by some margin, so is now the time to force adoption to catch up?

Gyan Mahatme explores this further as he talks about the role he is playing in this space, the hurdles he sees (including those he’s overcome in his career), and his vision for the future of the industry.this is a image of Gyan smiling

What is your role? Can you talk about the work you do?

I’m a management consultant and project professional working across a number of our industry sectors, although the future border strategy is of particular interest. What does that actually mean? Well, I shape and then deliver the people, processes and technology infrastructure needed to affect change. That means liaising with policymakers to guide the direction of travel (no pun intended) and feed in the art of the possible, working with suppliers to source innovative hardware and software, and then focussing back on the end-users to ensure what gets enacted is fit for purpose.

Do you think the public know enough about the future of our borders, the technology involved and its challenges?

I think a better question is whether the public knows enough about the opportunities within the borders sector. Consumers are well aware of the benefits of technology, AI and machine learning when it comes to home gadgets – just think about your fancy thermostat that turns the heating on ready for when you get home from work – but the possibilities within the borders space are just as exciting.

The technology we have available now could replace printed passports, eliminate the need for physical border security, allow tracking of goods from foreign factory right to your door, and so much more. Yet fears around data privacy combined with potently restrictive contracting mechanisms means we’re a long way behind adopting all that we could.

I’d love to see the public pushing the industry along – an increasing desire for something new rather than something a bit better, and a willingness to share data as needed, will enable us to move this industry forwards.

Do you feel we’re on track to improve the adoption of technology? Or is change needed?

Some change is needed to facilitate the kind of innovation that’s out there, particularly when it comes to the contractual mechanisms used to procure work and technology. We need to be facilitating partnerships with technology leaders that allow them to contract for work now, and then deliver future technology in the future – not just today’s tech later. Government policy is shifting to address this ongoing challenge, but without change, we’ll continue to see a large lag between technological capability and its adoption.

Have you had to overcome any hurdles during your career?
Unfortunately, I’ve seen first-hand how seniors with years of established experience and a preconception of how something should be done, have stifled innovation.

On the other hand, I feel privileged to be part of a culture at Atkins where this is not the case, and blue-sky thinking is championed and all grades of professional are able to input. From what I’ve seen, those looking with a fresh set of eyes tend to come up with the novel ideas that jump us ahead, and it’s the teamwork from then on, with more experienced staff, that make the dream a reality.

Do you think a programme/project like Faces of the Future is important for the industry and the UK?

Yes, totally! When I was growing up, I knew only a small selection of jobs and careers; we should be showing the next generation the full breath of jobs that are on offer. Not only that, but we need to be stressing the impact their contribution has on so many people’s lives – whether that’s the  passenger journey experience or cost of trade in the borders space, achieving net zero, or something else, there really are so many opportunities to ‘make a difference.’