Published on in Public SectorUK borders and customs

Increasingly, we find ourselves turning to technology to help solve some of the biggest challenges of our age. Yet when it comes to Brexit, technology is lost within a debate of extremes. It’s either dismissed outright as impossible for years to come or presented as a silver bullet that is immediately accessible.

As a technologist, I find this incredibly frustrating.

Technology on its own is not a panacea. It doesn’t have the answer to everything, and nor should it. Complex challenges can only be addressed through a combination of strategy, policy, processes, and of course people, all aided by technology. When looked at this way, I know it can help solve some of the biggest practical challenges of the UK’s exit from the EU – both in the near and long term.

In the two years since the Referendum, both within Government and in businesses across Europe, technology is being used to do just this. It is implementing changes of strategy, policy and process that is needed so that organisations can be ready for the UK’s exit from the European Union. These projects are broad in their range, from simple efforts to improve the resilience of existing systems to the application of advanced technology to aid contingency planning such as the automation of day to day processes.

However, to some, any talk of technology providing the answer to some of the biggest challenges at the UK border, results in cries of the impossibility of such at task and of government’s record of delivering change at such a scale. Perfectly rational commentators dismiss even the remotest notion of technology having the answer. This is despite evidence to the contrary, where across the world technology is used to facilitate movement at the border and drive GDP growth in countries whose border performance ranks as more efficient than ours.


So, what could we be doing with technology?

Over the past year, I have led a dedicated working group of experts which has been evaluating how technology can be applied at the border once the UK leaves the EU. In the first of two Point of View papers, we look at the UK’s customs arrangements post-exit, with a follow up Paper that will focus on the effect of people at the border.

In producing these papers, we have looked at the very specific challenges of withdrawal, as well as how this can be used to drive future prosperity. We have looked in great detail at best practice from leading trading regions from around the world. We’ve examined how we can leverage benefits from the digital innovation programmes of today’s global supply chain industry, and how these can be used to develop and establish the UK as a world-leading trading nation.

This research has led to discussions with, and inputs from, government and border departments, port authorities, industry, economists, freight forwarders, and law firms, among others. When discussing the future with those operating at the ‘coal face’ there is a real appetite to address these challenges through technology because industry collectively sees the productivity benefits that are available to them as a result of technology-driven efficiency at the border.

Whilst we have been inside the EU, our national investment in border systems and facilitation of trade has been limited. Customs and trade had become a backwater in Government with limited investment and low levels of digital investment now routine elsewhere in government and across industry. Brexit has catapulted this backwater into the limelight.

Our exit from the European Union presents an opportunity.

An opportunity to transform how we manage our border for the benefit of our future trading relationships with the EU and with the rest of the world – whatever these arrangements turn out to be. Consequently an opportunity to drive productivity for business as they engage with a productive and efficient government.

During this time of strategy and policy change, we can choose how we implement our transformed processes to better effect – working collaboratively between Government and Business. Together, a result, we have a real opportunity to enhance our GDP as the UK and increase our competiveness on the world stage.

The Point of View paper presents Fujitsu’s point of view on how these technologies can be applied to do just this. We discuss how we support the UK’s future trade ambitions, while helping to address some of the anticipated challenges of its withdrawal from the EU which may affect business, including:

  1. The Irish border
  2. Processing roll-on, roll-off (RoRo) freight at the port of Dover
  3. Supporting UK industry to prepare for EU exit

We go on to share how, together, we can collaborate as Government and Business to make a step change in our competitiveness, exploiting advancements that are progressing around the world.

In the first instance, this Paper is designed to provoke thought and stimulate discussion. But ultimately, I hope that it will act as a catalyst to drive forward the kind of changes at the border to enable the future success that we all want to see. You can access the full Point of View Paper here.

My next blog in this series will look in more detail at the Irish border…

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Frank Dunsmuir

Industry Head for Customs & Trade at Fujitsu
Frank Dunsmuir has over 20 years’ experience working for global technology organisations delivering services and solutions to the retail and supply chain industry, as well as major government programmes including DVLA’s electronic vehicle licencing and TfL’s congestion charging systems.

Today, Frank is an expert in new and emerging technologies, and how these can deliver innovative solutions to clients. He leads Fujitsu's relationship with the Customs and International Trade division of HMRC, identifying how technology can play a role in addressing both today's, and future, customs and trade business challenges.

Frank’s current focus is to support Government with its preparations for the UK's EU exit, together with the development of a vision of its future border capability for the UK, which will support growth in global trade and GDP.

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