COVID-19 has brought disruption to both our personal and professional lives. In the professional sphere, it has forced radical changes to the way we work and interact with our clients and colleagues, in a world where face-to-face contact has suddenly become impossible. The visa sector has been hit hard, yet this period has also offered significant opportunity for us to review and enhance the services we offer to our government clients and visa customers. In the end, COVID-19 is likely to prove the ultimate accelerator of digital transformation, in our sector as in many others.
Work at Home (WAH): the new normal
While the spread of COVID-19 has forced us to close the majority of our visa centres around the world, there are still a large number of critical business functions that must be maintained while our operations are closed. Following the example of our colleagues in China, who were first confronted with the COVID-19 outbreak in late January, we very quickly took the decision to introduce Work at Home (WAH) for as many functions as possible, as soon as it became apparent that the virus had begun to take root in Europe. Thanks to our secure and robust technology platform and a suite of digital workspace tools, our corporate teams and operations management staff around the world have been able to transition smoothly and swiftly to working from home during this period.
The WAH rollout has obviously not been without its challenges, as staff grapple with issues such as local internet quality and home bandwidth availability that they wouldn’t otherwise face. However, in an organisation like ours with operations across 90 countries, our global Technology Support team works out of several locations in Europe and Asia to provide remote assistance to people all over the world, with round-the-clock coverage.
A relentless focus on cyber-security
As our digital capability becomes increasingly central to our business, there has never been a more important time to keep the security of our information systems under constant review. All industry sectors have seen a significant increase in the number of cyber-attacks since the COVID-19 outbreak and it is particularly critical to limit our exposure to these cyber risks when our staff are working remotely.
Our Technology teams have been working hard to secure our systems and develop pragmatic controls to protect our users whilst they are working from home. Measures include:
- Increasing monitoring to identify any potential hacker events
- Enhancing our end-point security controls to detect and prevent unauthorised activity
- Adopting more secure forms of authentication to allow users to access our systems, especially from personal devices.
Increased digitisation of visa processing
Digital solutions have gradually been introduced into the visa sector over recent years, with the rise of e-visas and online submission of supporting documents using platforms like our eSolo self-upload solution. However, much of the visa application process remains paper-based and therefore very dependent on face-to-face interactions in visa centres. As COVID-19 has amply demonstrated, this can have a significant impact when a crisis forces countries into lockdown and people can no longer travel to a centre to submit their application.
One of the areas that we have been investigating has been how a fully digital journey could allow visa applications to continue to be processed throughout a disruptive event such as a pandemic or a terrorist attack. At TLScontact, we already digitise over 1 million visa applications every year. We are working on innovative solutions that would ensure the safe capture of biometric data, allow liveness tests and passport chip scanning via a smartphone. This would help governments to simplify the visa application process by making it optional for certain categories of applicants to come to a visa centre.
Like any period of crisis, COVID-19 has brought not only threats, but also great opportunities, to us as an organisation and to the visa sector in general. As in many other industries, technology has played a vital role in allowing us to maintain critical functions during lockdown. This crisis has also made it even more urgent to rethink and further digitalise our processes, improve our services for our government clients and develop fully digital journeys for our visa customers that will drive the reinvention of the visa industry as we emerge from this crisis.
Article by Alex Zverintsev,Chief Information Officer