The good experience was with NEXUS, a joint program between the Canadian and American governments to allow frequent travelers 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 six to seven weeks for the preliminary approval, and that the follow-up interviews were already being scheduled for December. Wrong.I applied using the online form 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 two-day wait rather than the two months I was expecting. I went out to 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 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 would have believed that the Canadian government could behave so efficiently. Before the NEXUS experience, I never would have believed that two governments in collaboration could possibly do something like this in less than three weeks, but they did. I imagine that part of the reason for the speedy response was my choice to use the online application (rather than the paper form), thereby doing the data entry and hopefully automating some parts of the process. 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. They keep it for three to five 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 nine business days in the next three to four 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. Huge lineup just to get to the triage desk; we wait in line for more than 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 three hours before my name was called, then entered the office of someone who may have been the Vice Consul or not. I explained that I travel to the US frequently and can't give up my passport for a week and a half. He immediately responded "I've had 10 people in here today with the same issue. 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 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.
This is a case of a business process gone horribly wrong, and not really serving all of the constituents it's 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 six weeks notice.
I'm sure 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.
Sandy Kemsley is an independent systems architect specializing in business process management, Enterprise 2.0, enterprise architecture and business intelligence. She is also the author of the Column2 blog on BPM, Enterprise 2.0 and technology trends in business. Write to her at Sandy [at] Column2.com.I recently had two government business process experiences: one good, one bad. The good one was with NEXUS, a joint program between the Canadian and American governments to allow frequent travelers to bypass long immigration line-ups... The bad experience was with the Indian consulate in Toronto and has killed my planned trip to speak at the SOA India conference in Bangalore in November...