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Part 2: What the Vision 2015 Programme covered and the lead up to it

Immigration New Zealand: Delivering transformational change.

In this Part, we discuss:

What the Vision 2015 Programme covered

The Vision 2015 Programme's business case set out four streams of work:

  • A business transformation component that included 29 main projects needed to establish a new way of delivering visa processing services, an approach to managing change, and a benefits management framework. Appendix 1 lists these projects.
  • Delivery of a new ICT system that would enable Immigration New Zealand to automate parts of the visa processing service and provide online services to its customers.
  • Preparing for, and supporting, the transition to a new ICT system. This included creating new business processes and facilitating training.
  • Other projects in Immigration New Zealand strongly linked to the successful delivery of a new ICT system. Appendix 2 lists these projects.

Below, we discuss the need for Immigration New Zealand to change.

The need for change

In the mid-2000s, Immigration New Zealand's core system for visa processing, the Application Management System, was not fit-for-purpose for dealing with digital information. It was outdated, inflexible, expensive to maintain, and did not support online services, although later investigation showed that it remained fit-for-purpose for processing and border functionality. Immigration New Zealand's reliance on paper documents (such as application forms, medical certificates, and visa labels physically attached to passports) and lack of automation meant that the increasing number of visa applications was likely to create large backlogs. The manual process and lack of standard organisational processes between Immigration New Zealand offices led to a service that had substantial variation in the overall quality of visa decisions.4

There were also other factors that contributed to the need for change:

  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade stopped providing visa services.
  • Because the visa processing service was paper-based, there was a need for physical offices. This led to high fixed costs (for example, the cost of rent in some cities) and an inflexible service that could not adapt quickly to changes in visa application numbers.
  • Immigration New Zealand needed to meet its international commitments to security and sharing information.
  • Paper documents for identity verification were becoming unreliable because they were susceptible to misuse and fraud.
  • Government agencies that needed to verify a migrant's right to receive public services could not get information without help from Immigration New Zealand's staff.
  • The Immigration New Zealand website was not providing prospective migrants with information in a user-friendly way.
  • It was difficult for visa applicants to find out the status of their visa application or when they could expect a decision.

These factors kept Immigration New Zealand's immigration system from being modern, flexible, and effective. They also prevented Immigration New Zealand from having a risk-based, customer-focused, consistent, and cost-effective visa processing service. The immigration system needed to change so it could compete internationally for the people New Zealand needed.

Although there was a clear need for change, it took many years for Immigration New Zealand to establish a major change programme to transform its services.

The lead up to delivery of the Vision 2015 Programme

The change programme was slow to emerge. There was good progress once Immigration New Zealand set up the appropriate structures and brought in the right people.

Immigration New Zealand went through two phases between 2006 and 2012 before an effective approach to change emerged. This was a complex and lengthy process that ran over many years.

Pre-2008: The Immigration Business Transformation project

In 2006, an initial business case for the Immigration Business Transformation project was created. The business case aimed to roll out a new ICT system that would deliver immigration services. Immigration New Zealand considered that the core visa processing system was no longer fit for purpose. The Immigration Business Transformation project was part of a wider Immigration Change Programme that was happening at the time.

2008 to 2012: The Immigration Global Management System project

In March 2008, Cabinet approved the scope of a new business case, which included replacing the core visa processing system.

Legislative changes in 2009 supported how Immigration New Zealand wanted to operate in the future.5 The changes included providing an automated electronic system for visa decision-making, the collection and use of biometric (face and fingerprint) information for identity verification, and more flexibility for government agencies to share information.

In 2010, the Immigration Business Transformation project concluded without delivering the new ICT system. Based on the lessons from the Immigration Business Transformation project, Cabinet directed Immigration New Zealand to create a revised business case for a new ICT system that would enable and support Immigration New Zealand's business change. The new system was known as the Immigration Global Management System. Cabinet also approved a $30 million contingency fund to keep the core visa processing system running.

In October 2011, Cabinet approved the business case for the Immigration Global Management System with a capital cost of $90.4 million.

There were other business change activities occurring in Immigration New Zealand during this time. For example, there was a project to create an identity management system for New Zealand and a project to change the way Immigration New Zealand operated. Teams were working in isolation on different projects and progress was slow.

2012 to 2016: The Vision 2015 Programme

In 2012, Immigration New Zealand realised it needed an IT-led business change programme to co-ordinate all business change activities that were related to visa processing services. Until this point, the Immigration Global Management system was one project in a portfolio of projects.

There was another project called the Global Service Delivery Model that looked to change where and how Immigration New Zealand delivered visa services globally. It involved identifying offices for closure and centralising services in fewer locations. The Global Service Delivery Model and the Immigration Global Management System projects were strongly linked. The Immigration Global Management System enables a new way of delivering visa services and it was important that service redesign projects were not done in isolation.

At the time, Immigration New Zealand did not know how it would achieve this new way of working. There was a strategy but it did not include a road map with the steps the business needed to take to achieve its outcomes. With the help of external consultants, Immigration New Zealand established a new visa processing operating model. The new operating model aimed to enable Immigration New Zealand to achieve the Vision 2015 Programme's outcomes and intended benefits. A detailed design identified 29 projects involving 35 discrete pieces of work that needed to be completed to achieve the new operating model (see Appendix 1).

Immigration New Zealand recognised that the Immigration Global Management System project itself would not achieve the efficiencies and outcomes it wanted. It needed to be supported by staff who were committed to the project, efficient visa processing, and a consistent way of working throughout all Immigration New Zealand offices.

The Global Service Delivery Model, the Immigration Global Management System, and a few other business change activities together formed the Vision 2015 Programme. The Vision 2015 Programme was formally set up in October 2013, and Cabinet approved a revised business case for the Vision 2015 Programme with a budget of $108.4 million.

Immigration New Zealand managed the change and delivered the Vision 2015 Programme in a challenging environment where:

  • there was an increasing number of visa applications that needed to be processed. Staff needed to maintain visa processing timeliness and, at the same time, learn a new way of working;
  • the Department of Labour was disestablished, and Immigration New Zealand became part of MBIE. As a result, Immigration New Zealand had to change some of the new ICT system's components so it would align with MBIE's systems;
  • some offices were under review, as part of the Global Service Delivery Model project, and at risk of closure. We spoke to some staff who felt the uncertainty made it more stressful for them and they needed to learn the Vision 2015 programme's changes on top of that;
  • change had to be managed and delivered to offices in 16 countries, each with their own culture and practices; and
  • there were other projects happening at the same time that affected the Vision 2015 programme. For example, Immigration New Zealand's website was being improved to provide tailored information to its customers. Immigration New Zealand needed to make sure that the website would be clearly linked to its online visa processing services.

The shift from a portfolio of projects to a programme approach was critical to ensuring each project's successful delivery. The portfolio approach did not have the disciplines needed for the scale of business change envisaged. The projects were done in isolation and there were weak governance arrangements. In Appendix 3, we provide a detailed timeline of events leading to the formation, and conclusion, of the Vision 2015 Programme.

Decision to keep parts of the core visa processing system

The core visa processing system connects with a system used by New Zealand Customs Service. This connection provides New Zealand Customs Service with identity, passport, and visa data on people coming into, and leaving, New Zealand. Because Immigration New Zealand expected to fully replace the core visa processing system with the Immigration Global Management System, this connection needed to be revised.

However, in September 2013, an assessment of the Immigration Global Management System project found that fully replacing the system was more expensive and would take longer than anticipated. The assessment also found that the processing element of the existing system was fit-for-purpose for the new approach. There were several reasons for this:

  • Immigration New Zealand had underestimated the complexity of fully replacing the core visa processing system. It is made up of several sub-systems that cannot be fully removed until the Immigration Global Management System can replace the functionality.
  • Immigration New Zealand needed to make sure medical assessments and electronic visas could be done online. The Immigration Global Management System business case did not include the costs for this. Without this capability, visa applications could not be completed fully online because applicants would still need to send paper medical certificates and passports in the mail.
  • New government security standards, such as the requirement for systems to scan electronic files for malware, added to costs.
  • Immigration New Zealand adopted lessons from the Report of the Ministerial Inquiry into the Novopay Project (Ministry of Education). Immigration New Zealand needed to slow down its roll-out of the Immigration Global Management System to ensure that all user testing was robust and software defects were identified and fixed before they were released.

Once Immigration New Zealand understood the complexity and cost of fully replacing the core visa processing system, keeping parts of it was considered to be the only viable option to save costs and still deliver a new visa processing operating model. It was decided that the connection between the systems used by Immigration New Zealand and New Zealand Customs Service no longer needed to be revised. The Vision 2015 Programme Board decided to keep parts of the core visa processing system that were still fit for purpose.6 Ministers approved this decision.

A new work programme within the Vision 2015 Programme was set up to manage the transition from the core visa processing system to the Immigration Global Management System, and to maintain the parts of the core visa processing system that were being kept. This was managed by MBIE's Chief Information Officer.

The Vision 2015 Programme's objectives and intended benefits

As described in its business case, the Vision 2015 Programme aimed to deliver an effective and efficient visa processing service where:

  • visa applicants are treated consistently, regardless of which offices processed the applications;
  • risk is visible, understood, and managed;
  • low-risk visa applicants are encouraged to apply online whenever possible, high-value customers are prioritised, and high-risk applications are dealt with by experienced Immigration Officers;
  • the visa processing service can adapt and shift work or resources in response to peaks and troughs in the number and types of visa applications from different countries;
  • Immigration New Zealand uses the internet to communicate accurate information to people everywhere;
  • the visa process is transparent and understandable. Applicants know when to expect a decision; and
  • information and services are targeted and customised to the applicant. This will be supported by reducing visa categories and simplifying application forms.

The Vision 2015 Programme's intended benefits of an effective and efficient visa processing service were:

  • where practical, centralised visa processing. This will be supported by the availability of online information services, identity management, and organisational changes;
  • a reduced number of inquiries handled through traditional channels (such as face-to-face counter services) by rolling out the customer-facing online system Immigration Online and incorporating assisted and self-service models;
  • improved customer experience through:
    • streamlining processes, such as fewer visa categories;
    • reduced visa processing times;
    • increased transparency of the visa application process;
    • minimised referrals; and
    • improved choice and flexibility, including access to "premium" services such as faster processing of low-risk applications;
  • more time for Immigration Officers to commit to challenging cases that require more investigation and judgement. This is achieved by automating high-volume, low-risk, and repetitive work wherever practicable;
  • smarter identification and more timely and effective intervention during the visa process and at the border, by sharing identity information, biometric information, and intelligence appropriately in Immigration New Zealand and throughout agencies;
  • shared information and intelligence to reduce immigration fraud and related malpractices by applicants, licensed immigration advisers, and other parties; and
  • reduced future costs in health, education, justice, and welfare spending in New Zealand through more accurate and discerning assessments before and at the point of entry.

Planned savings

The Vision 2015 Programme expected to deliver savings to Immigration New Zealand through the new operating model and process efficiencies (Figure 3).

Figure 3
Changes in estimates of financial benefits

When financial benefits were revisedEstimated savings
2011: The Immigration Global Management System business case $22.3 million each year from 2016/17
2013: The Vision 2015 Programme business case $22.3 million each year from 2016/17
September/October 2014: Review of the Vision 2015 Programme $12.3 million each year from 2018/19
June 2015: The Vision 2015 Programme extension business case (this additional work and related benefits have been excluded from the programme) $17.4 million each year from 2018/19

Source: Immigration New Zealand.

Immigration New Zealand has refined its estimation of savings over time as it formed a more realistic view of the efficiencies that could be achieved.

Immigration New Zealand derived these estimated savings from:

  • having fewer offices and staff;
  • transferring the visa services previously provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade back to Immigration New Zealand; and
  • process improvements, such as less reliance on paper and automating the decision-making process for low-risk visa applications.

Estimated savings were revised in September/October 2014 to include the decision to keep parts of the core visa processing system. This reduced the estimated annual savings from $22.3 million to $12.3 million. It also created a two-year delay to realise the full financial benefits.

Immigration New Zealand identified an opportunity to extend the functionality of the Immigration Global Management System by investing a further $28.4 million. This would achieve an additional $5.1 million each year in benefits. Cabinet approved this funding in June 2015. The estimated savings increased to $17.4 million each year. In December 2015, Immigration New Zealand decided to exclude the delivery of this additional work and its related benefits from the Vision 2015 Programme.

Service benefits

The service benefits outlined in the Vision 2015 Programme's business case were not specific and were not quantified.

Some of the service benefits include:

  • improved border security through an effective identity management system and through sharing information with other countries;
  • improved customer service for visa applicants and their employers through online services;
  • a transparent and complete view of the visa processing system;
  • an electronic environment that would allow Immigration New Zealand to better manage the peaks and troughs in the number of visa applications;
  • improved management of visa application queues by electronically assigning work to offices with capacity; and
  • improved reputation with migrants and other government agencies.

The service benefits were refined during the Vision 2015 Programme to include an improved customer experience.

Other benefits

There has been no attempt yet by Immigration New Zealand to attribute wider economic benefits, such as export education, tourism, and skilled migrants' contributions to the labour market, to the Vision 2015 Programme.

Recommendation 1
To fully realise the intended benefits from the Vision 2015 Programme, we recommend that Immigration New Zealand establish a clear set of detailed benefits and outcomes resulting from the Vision 2015 Programme, including any wider economic benefits (such as benefits to the tourism industry and labour market).

4: Office of the Auditor-General (2009), Inquiry into immigration matters (Volume 1): Visa and permit decision-making and other issues.

5: Immigration Act 2009.

6: The parts of the core visa processing system that were kept included border management processing, visa application assessment, and decision-making functionalities.

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