It was confirmed today that the Department of Foreign Affairs has awarded systems integrator BearingPoint (formerly KPMG Consulting) with a contract worth €22m to modernise the Passport Office systems.
The project will include the design of the new system, the installation and testing of equipment and the supply of new passport booklets and application forms.
The objectives of the passport project are twofold: to automate passport production to cut the waiting time for the documents and to tighten up security in order to reduce the incidence of passport fraud.
The new system is due to be completed by autumn 2004.
Using laser-engraving machines provided by a US supplier, Datacard, and controlling software from a Dutch firm, Encheder SDU, a passport holder’s details will be electronically applied to a polycarbonate data page that sits in the passport, achieving a near-unprecedented level of security. To date, only one other country, the Netherlands, has implemented such a system.
“It is widely accepted as being the most secure passport system in the world so Ireland is taking a huge leap,” says Ronan Kneafsey, head of public sector at BearingPoint.
The production process will also allow for biometric chips to be included in passports at a later stage. These are used as a means of identifying passport-holders through matching against a person’s physical characteristics such as fingerprint or iris.
The system will be designed to make it possible for citizens to apply for passports online via the Public Services Broker, the yet-to-be-built electronic gateway for accessing public services.
However, Paul Toner (pictured), managing director of BearingPoint, emphasised that the passport system would be developed independently of the broker. “It’s not the responsibility of any individual solution to provide entry and exit criteria. That is the role of the broker. What we’re building is open ended and will link in with the broker or anything else that’s put in place so long as it conforms to open standards,” he explained.
Toner estimated that up to 50 BearingPoint consultants would work in the project at any time. As well as providing overall project management, the firm will also develop the software systems that will automate and manage the processing of passport applications, he said.
By Brian Skelly