A few months ago, I blogged about the unexpectedly good experience that I’d had at the Canadian passport office, where the process actually worked the way it was supposed to, and rewarded the consumer (me) by accelerating my wait time since I did my own data entry online.
Last week, I had two other government business process experiences: one good, one bad.
The good one was my NEXUS card: NEXUS is a joint program between the Canadian and American governments to allow frequent travellers to replace the long immigration line-ups in both directions with a retinal scan for authentication and a few questions on a touch-screen kiosk. Since I travel across the border fairly regularly, I decided to apply for this, especially after being stuck in a line of 500 people waiting for immigration checks a few times. Friends warned that it took 6-8 weeks for the preliminary approval, and that the follow-up interviews were already being scheduled for December. Wrong. I applied using the online form about 3-1/2 weeks ago, and received (by email) my approval and invitation to schedule an interview about two weeks later. I went online the next day, a Saturday, and found an appointment for that Monday — a 2-day wait rather than the 2 months that I was expecting. I went out to their office at the Toronto airport for the interview, again expecting an hours-long delay, and was out of there so fast that my parking cost was $3 — that’s the minimum, which means that it was less than 30 minutes to park the car, find their office, have my eyes and fingers scanned, answer some questions and have my card issued.
Before the passport office experience, I never believed that the Canadian government could behave so efficiently. Before last week, I never believed that two governments in collaboration could possibly do something like this in less than 3 weeks, but they did. I have to imagine that part of this is because I chose to fill in the online application — thereby doing their data entry for them and hopefully allowing them to automate some parts of the process — rather than the paper application form; I’d be very curious to hear what the average application-to-interview time is for the paper method. I’d also love to know if they’re using some sort of BPM technology to help this process along.
The bad government business process experience that I had was with the Indian consulate in Toronto, and has killed my planned trip to speak at SOA India in Bangalore in November. I was getting my trip plans in place, and knew that I had to get a visa in order to enter India. On the website of the Indian consulate, however, I saw that the process is to mail in my passport, then they keep it for 3-5 days, then they mail it back. To be conservative, that’s 2+5+2 = 9 business days (if nothing goes wrong). My problem is that I don’t have a stretch of 9 business days in the next 3-4 weeks when I’m not flying between Canada and the US — which now requires a passport — because of the conferences that I’m attending, so I can’t go through the usual process. I email the Vice Consul for Visas to see if there’s an expedited process for this situation, who responds “Possibility can be explored but without any promises” and invites me to come into the consulate. We scramble around to get our visa applications filled out, get the requisite photos and money orders, then arrive shortly after the consulate opens one morning last week. Huge lineup just to get to the triage desk; we wait in line for over an hour just to speak with someone, who then wrote my name on a list for an interview. We sat in the waiting room for an additional 3 hours before my name was called, then entered the office of someone who may have been the Vice Consul or not. I explained the same thing that I had said in my email — I travel to the US frequently and can’t give up my passport for a week and a half, so am looking for an expedited process — and he immediately responded “I’ve had 10 people in here today with the same issue, and I had to turn them all down, so it’s not fair if I do it for you; we can only expedite the process for family emergencies.” The interview was over in 30 seconds. WTF? Why didn’t he tell me that in the email, so that I didn’t waste a couple of hours of prep time, four hours of sitting in their waiting room, and $50 on photos, money orders and prepaid return envelopes? For that matter, why isn’t there an expedited process (for a fee, of course) for those of us who can’t give up our passports for a long time due to frequent cross-border travel? My travel to India was to speak at a business conference, which presumably benefits the Indian economy in some small way.
What we have is the case of a business process gone horribly wrong, and not really serving all of the constituents that it is meant to serve. The process appears to be completely manual and not have the same rules for everyone: some visas were being expedited, but not for business reasons. There’s a mismatch between the information that was offered by email and what the consulate worker was actually empowered to do, or possibly what he chose to do at that moment. There’s excessive unscheduled wait time for participants in the process. And, in the end, it’s the Indian conference organizer (and potentially the attendees) who suffers through no actions of his own: he now needs to find a replacement speaker to come to India on 6 weeks notice.
I’m sure that the Indian government has challenges that the Canadian and American governments can’t even imagine, and I don’t expect to see the same level of technology and automation. However, there are huge opportunities for process improvement here that don’t involve technology, just standardization and a focus on efficiency.