Customs & Border Management

Using Cognitive and Blockchain to drive innovation at the border

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Cognitive Computing and Blockchain were areas of focus as officials representing customs, border security and immigration agencies from around the globe met in New York City as part of the 2016 CIBM Executive Forum (#2016CIBM). This year the forum focused on how agencies could leverage developments like cognitive computing and blockchain to drive innovation out to the border to improve critical operations related to the movement of people and goods globally.

Speakers highlighted how the velocity of instability is affecting trade, travel and immigration operations in every corner of the globe. From an increase in immigration and asylum request that grew from 29,000 in 2014 to over 900,000 in Germany, to a 62% increase in insider cyber threats, to the challenge of processing 124+ million passengers a year through the three major NYC are airports – the message was clear that the challenges are real, evolving and growing.

Since the effectiveness of customs, border security and immigration operations has a direct bearing on the free flow of trade and people, the agencies attending the event were in strong agreement they have a consistent need to evolve to not only meet threats but to outthink them.


Digitally Transforming with Cognitive Computing

A focus of the event was to explore the possibilities of cognitive computing in helping these agencies handle the disrupting factors they face on a daily basis. From the processing of trade documentation (some electronic, some written), to the need to verify and establish identification from millions of asylum seekers and refugees, to the ability to uncover contraband and secure different modes of international transportation, cognitive computing holds promise to provide critical insight to improve the operation of these data intensive processes. A Twitter poll executed as part of the event indicated that 75% of the respondents felt that cognitive computing will transform critical business processes – with 42% thinking that it is extremely likely to happen.

One agency discussed how they are already using cognitive computing and its ability to see, understand and learn from visual images to detect specific threats. As they explained the enhanced capability enabled by cognitive does not replace human ability, but augments it by more quickly and accurately uncovering contraband items and sharing the insight far beyond the point of detection.

Other agencies discussed how cognitive computing can be used to compile large amounts of information related to the migrant crisis. Information related to militant attacks, news reports, environmental and weather data, observer reports, social media and drone data can be used to verify stories from displaced individual, helping authorities confirm back stories and determine service needs.  With 244 million migrants on the move globally in 2015, a 41% increase compared to 2000, agencies charged with processing immigration requests need to quickly analyze, verify information and scale capabilities to get critical services to people in need.

In New York, protecting travel and trade operations is critical to the economic lifeblood of the city and having seen the impact of events like Hurricane Sandy, the Port Authority is implementing the use of weather data sourced from sensors and historical weather analysis to predict the impact of weather on operations and facilities. With this insight, the agency has taken preventative actions to make the agency and their operations more resilient.

Blockchain in Customs, Travel and Trade Operations

Another topic that was heavily discussed is the impact of blockchain. Across trade, travel and immigration processes the need to secure transactions whether they be customs declarations, identity documentation or financial information, the concept of a shared ledger that can be verified and secured among multiple stakeholders holds great interest. A Twitter poll related to the topic of blockchain indicated that 100% of the respondents foresee blockchain as a critical capability to secure transactions. It will be interesting to watch how blockchain takes hold, but as banks, retailers, and transport organizations begin to implement blockchain based operations, and government agencies have begun to take notice and are taking steps to build their own blockchain capabilities.

The overall purpose of the forum was to help agencies understand how digital capabilities related to cognitive computing will help them make their operations more efficient and secure even in the face of challenges brought about by increasing regulations, higher volumes and outdated systems. While those challenges are real, 50% of respondents to a CIBM related Twitter poll cited intra-agency cooperation as the greatest challenge to achieving innovation at the border. While technology can help provide the unified framework that multiple stakeholders can collaborate around, governments and international bodies will have to reach the right level of agreement that achieves balance between security and data privacy.

Seeing first-hand how many of these agencies are embracing innovation, pushing the limits to address challenges and collaborating to overcome issues is encouraging. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for these agencies tasked with securing the border and the engines of commerce.

IBM, Marketing Portfolio Manager, Government

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