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We have been hearing about digital transformation of industries for a while now, Industrial Internet of Things, and the connected world that people envision. Still this on going transformation has not really impacted me personally,  and I just went on with my life, not really seeing any impact. That is, until I needed to renew my United Kingdom Passport.

It had been just under ten years since I had to go through this process. And at that time it involved going to the post office and asking for a UK Passport form to fill in. This does not sound like much but I live in a small town in Canada, so my local post office is a Canada Post office not a British one. Yet, the post office always had the forms. Just think of all the post offices in Canada that at that time were stocking the forms, what an investment by the UK Government, and I wonder for how many other Commonwealth countries did they do this for. After the form was completed and the appropriate singed photos included, everything was shipped to the British Embassy in Ottawa for processing. A multi week process.

Things have really changed. The current process involves filling in a secured form online, payment information, and printing  a 1 page declaration (which has to be signed). This declaration, along with the old passport, plus two photos are now sent to a passport office in the U.K.  It would be a long time before I got my passport back, after all we are talking about the government, and they are never quick. I was wrong.

Tracking the stages of my passport through the website, I saw my application arrive on a Wednesday, and the processing being started. By the following Tuesday I was notified by DHL that I was getting a package that required a signature. Hopes were high, I was amazed, but no it was my old passport. Government again, not expecting anything.  Then on Friday, another message from DHL, another package requiring my signature. Yes it was my new passport. Amazing.

So, what happened digitally.

1) a web portal with all instructions and a guided procedure to follow. Including the specification for the photos

2) a web portal to allow the required information to be filled in, with an automatic generated tracking id, and account number,

3) a simple 1 page with a bar code identification to be printed out and signed  and then sent to the central passport office (no need for physical forms at numerous locations, nor to have passport offices in each embassy)

4) the ability to track the process stages via the portal. No need to contact the passport office.

5) a status update, telling my if I needed to do anything else, and eventually indicating the passport was in its way.

Then DHL took over.

I was notified via text message that my package would be delivered on a specific day, and required a signature. The message included a tracking number and the address of the DHL parcel tracking site. Here I could see all the stages of travel for the package. With the additional option of choosing another date, or opting out of the signature requirement. Shortly after the text message I received an automated phone call on my cell also informing me that a packing was being delivered to me. Success.

Other changes to the process..

No need to provide a UK birth certificate (unlike the last time I renewed my UK passport). After all, they had all the records anyway, they had already  issued me with a least one passport previously.  In fact I did not even need to have my photos signed. As it turns out for the UK  passport process if you look like your previous photo, there is no need to hunt down someone on the approved professions list for a signature.

Entering the digital age,

So now I am in possession of a passport with many  security features including a chip with digitized images to verify that the image on the passport is the same as the image when issued:  here is a link describing some  features of the passport .

Lessons learnt:

1) Before digitizing, look at your process. Can it be changed, or simplified?

2) Use the information that you already have in your possession. Are you asking for the same information to be filled in again and again?

3) Integrate the various steps of the process to present a seamless experience for your customer. After my initial application, all communications, updates, and status were electronic. No paper involved. The only physical aspect of the process was the submittal of the application documents and the delivery of my old and new passports.

For additional fun I found out that one of the images in the passport is of John Harrison, born in Yorkshire (where my family is from), a maritime clock maker. The things you find out when you least expect them. Looks like I need to do some research on my family tree.

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