The evolution of ICA: Fewer documents and more online services
Big changes are coming to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), with plans for a shift away from physical documents, more online services, and a new building.
SINGAPORE: Big changes are coming to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), with plans for a shift away from physical documents, more online services, and a new building.
Speaking to reporters in an interview on Dec 22 (Tuesday), ICA’s deputy commissioner for policy and transformation (DC) Cora Chen stressed the need for the authority to continue to value-add in its offerings to the public as it evolves.
“ICA needs to remain relevant - our operating terrain, members of the public change, you have to transform yourself along with it so that you continue to add value to the public,” explained DC Chen, who is overseeing several projects in which the ICA aims to transform its current systems, and adopt a new operating model.
As the ICA aims for “digital transformation”, one of its targets is to provide 100 per cent online services by the end of next year, said DC Chen.
“There is something that is holding us back. That is the issue of physical documents,” she added. “What it means is that no matter how much you push, the person still needs to go to a physical location to pick up the physical document.”
As such, there are also plans to progressively reduce the issuance of physical documents, she added.
“We will aggressively roll out digital documents starting next year and the year after, and the only documents that we are likely to retain in its physical form are only passports and ICs (identity cards). So, with that, what it means is for the collection, after approval, the person doesn’t need to come to (the) ICA (building),” DC Chen explained.
DC Chen also noted that Singapore residents can expect to see a number of upcoming initiatives rolled out in the coming months.
Initiatives in the pipeline include services which will allow residents to report the loss of their ICs, as well as report damaged passports online.
In addition, there are also plans for a secure digital repository where residents can access ICA-issued documents. Documents that will be the first in line to be stored will be birth and death certificates as well as long-term passes.
To ensure the security of information stored, DC Chen said that the ICA has “strict user access controls”.
“We regularly conduct audits on user access and disseminate advisories to remind officers against the misuse of IT systems. Errant officers caught misusing the data will be dealt with in accordance with the law,” she said.
“All personal data collected and stored by ICA are protected by the Government data security framework, which includes the encryption of sensitive data and monitoring of data transmissions.”
“As we move on the transformation path, it gets harder and harder to bring high value to members of the public. So you will see ICA collaborating more with other parts of the Government to transform how services are being delivered. So members of the public can only stand to gain,” she added.
Another project DC Chen is overseeing is the construction of ICA’s new Integrated Services Centre, slated for completion in 2023.
The new 10-storey building will be built on an open-air car park next to ICA’s existing premises along Kallang Road, which will be upgraded when the new building is ready. After the Integrated Services Center is completed, the current ICA building will not be accessible to members of the public, said DC Chen.
At the Integrated Services Center, visitors will be served at a single counter even if they require access to different ICA services. On a dedicated floor, self-service kiosks will allow visitors to collect documents without making a prior appointment.
A new system, iSMART, will store the documents safely and send them to the kiosks using robotics.
The move will allow the ICA to combine services relevant to members of the public under one roof, noted DC Chen.
“Over the past 20 years or so, we have slowly helped nudge the public to come to expect the concept of transacting with ICA. So now we think that it is time to move one step further,” she added.
At the same time, DC Chen noted that an increase in marriages between a foreign spouse and a Singaporean, as well as more instances of individuals remarrying means that the needs for immigration services have become more “complex”.
“Since the societal profile is shifting ... We are reorganizing ourselves. So we want to offer a one-stop service to the whole household, so if your household comes to us in the future, we want to serve you … and advise you what are the services that you should apply for and are eligible to apply for.”
The overall shift in the way the ICA operates will also mean new roles for its officers, said DC Chen. For one, there will be a team of officers at the new building who will function as roving service ambassadors to assist visitors, should the need arise.
‘With the integrated services centre concept, it means our officers need to learn the whole suite of services provided by ICA,’ added DC Chen. “By having different knowledge of the full suite of ICA services, now they are very cross-deployable.”
And given that there will be less of a need for back end data entry as well as staff handling physical documents, the ICA’s strategy will thus be to retrain officers in these roles.
"A BLESSING IN DISGUISE"
The COVID-19 pandemic has also shown that the ICA’s “transformation journey” has been the correct decision, said DC Chen.
“COVID-19 has been challenging. In hindsight I know it sounds strange, but it was also a blessing in disguise,” she explained. “It forced us to adapt and move way faster. So we were way more aggressive in rolling up our transformation plans. And it also helped our members of the public to adapt to the digital transformation.”
During the “circuit breaker” period, ICA had encouraged foreign visitors who needed to extend their stay in Singapore to submit their applications online, as over-the-counter services at the ICA Building were restricted. About 80 per cent of applications for extensions were submitted online from January to November 2020, compared to about 60 per cent during the same period in 2019.
“It also helped members of the public to relearn, to rethink how they would like to transact with ICA," added DC Chen.
Given the ever-changing nature of the pandemic, Singapore has had to repeatedly adjust and tweak its border control measures in order to safeguard its population. This means that ICA officers have to constantly be on their toes, said DC Chen.
“It is inevitable because the COVID-19 situation globally changes so fast,” she explained. “So, officers need to constantly learn and unlearn the policies.”
READ: COVID-19: All travellers entering Singapore from Mar 27 must submit health declaration forms online
But what has helped are initiatives that had been previously rolled out and can now be adapted for use in the current climate, noted DC Chen. For one, the SG Arrival Cards (SGAC) has been adapted to allow travellers to fill it in online and also to include a new online health declaration function, she said.
“When we signed up for this job, we're in service for the nation, and the COVID-19 period is the time in which we need to do our best in order to help the nation pull through,” added DC Chen.