A few days ago, I received an official notification from Microsoft that out of over 2,500 entries, SMS Management and Technology’s (SMS) nomination Borderforce: Enabling the Security of Australia's Borders with Microsoft Technology, successfully won Public Sector: Public Safety and National Security Partner of the Year.
To be chosen as Microsoft Partner of the Year, one must be able to present a solution that is better aligned to Microsoft’s category for the award than any of the other entries submitted from around the world, which we successfully did. I’m proud of our work and the solution we were involved in building. I’d like to share a few thoughts on the Award and the project.
The Project: eBorderforce
I was asked to go out to Sydney Airport and take a look at how data collection was happening for the Air Cargo Division of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), and assess alternative digital solutions. In that process, I observed what happens around inspecting goods coming into the country and how they are processed to validate whether the goods coming in have any concealed illegal content. I observed a very paper-intensive process involving a lot of manual information capture. Once we understood the data sets being collected and the process of collection, we were able to start designing a digital solution.
The eBorderforce Solution
Through the design process, we mocked up an app concept using some prototyping tools from Microsoft Visual Studio and went back to DIBP with a potential way we could see this application working. This was followed by several iterative design changes as we involved more of the key people that would be using the application.
Requirements of the Project
The solution architecture required that we integrate to back end infrastructure such as Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) and other data sources inside the DIBP network. The solution also needed to be designed to be able to manage more than just the Air Cargo workload as future states required Sea Cargo management as well.
Another requirement was the ability to allow staff or officers to communicate across the DIBP organisation while in the field using Skype for Business, for example, when a subject matter expert is required to provide input on a case via video conference. They required a mobile app that would also work when there was no network coverage, meaning the solution needed to have full offline capabilities.
One of the challenges that the agency had faced in the past was that application development had been taking up to two years to build, but in this case, they really needed to see a rapid roll out. The solution needed to be in-production within six months.
Dynamics at Work
We achieved the go-live goal of six months. The tight turnaround was achievable because Dynamics CRM was chosen as the core platform for the mobile app to be built on. Out of the box Dynamics provided the following core building blocks:
- Sophisticated Security Model
- Data Integrity Management
- BI & Reporting
- Integration (API’s, Web Services, SSIS, ESB)
- Microsoft Office Integration
- Enterprise Case Management
- Workflow, Business Rules and Business Process Management
Dynamics CRM proved to be a robust starting point for building the mobile field application which allowed us to focus on the outcomes the customer wanted to achieve. We had full trust that the platform met the underlying requirements — meaning, we didn’t have to build them from scratch. This is a classic example of using a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solution to build a line of business software application.
The application has now been in production for some months. It is deployed around multiple International Airports in Australia. DIBP are realizing around an hour a day per officer time savings, allowing officers to spend more time focusing on protecting the borders of Australia.
We've entered this project for the following reasons:
- It allowed us to demonstrate how using Microsoft Software and Hardware can provide tools that allow people to become more efficient in their daily roles.
- It showcased use of the following Microsoft technologies:
• Azure for Dev, Test and UAT
• Dynamics CRM as the core platform
• .net to build a mobile offline enabled enterprise application
• Surface Pro for the field device
• Skype for Business
Personal Thoughts on Winning Partner of the Year
The Global Microsoft Partner of the Year Awards, for me, is like the Oscars of our industry. In other words, this is the highest award I could achieve in my career in the technology that I’ve specialized in – Dynamics CRM. To win this out of a peer community of over 2500 submissions from around the world definitely means a lot. I’m proud of the achievement of our team at SMS and personally being involved in the process. Although I was involved in kicking off and establishing the project, there’s been many key staff members, particularly at our WA office that were involved in the solution build. We also teamed with Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) on this project.
This Partner of the Year Award really allows us to demonstrate our expertise, and showcase Microsoft technologies. We are able to apply our learnings from this project to other customs and immigration agencies, as well as any Government agencies aiming to replace manual, paper-intensive data collection with mobile solutions that allow people to easily capture and access information in the field so they can focus on their key role instead; be it protecting our borders, validating health and safety requirements or carrying out field audits.