Outsourcing and technology services company, VFS Global manages non-judgmental and administrative tasks related to applications for visa, passport, identity and citizen services for its client governments, enabling them to focus entirely on the critical task of assessment. The digital transformation at VFS Global enabled it to keep pace with the evolving needs of the customers. The introduction of personalised services such as, an appointment management system, e- visa services and visa-at-your-doorstep that enables end-to-end visa submission at any location chosen by customers were further steps towards it. Dhiren Savla, Chief Information Officer, VFS Global shares more about the digital endeavours at the company. Edited excerpts.
What are the major digital transformation initiatives taken since the last 5 years and how are they positioned now? Please cite instances.
Digital transformation is the shift in an organisation’s strategy in using people, technology and processes to discover new business opportunities, new revenue streams, and to make existing process more efficient. Changing customer expectations around products and services, prompts the need for this shift. Given our mandate of managing operations across more than 140 countries, catering to 63 client governments and millions of visa application customers, our IT infrastructure, has been the backbone of business since inception. Speaking of digital transformation initiatives, our digital portfolio has grown continuously to more than 1000 websites with different languages, currencies, data protection policies, and procedures, serving up to 100 million web visitors annually. In fact, in 2018, before the pandemic, the company’s largest digital project to date was launched to upgrade the digital experience globally. We set up a dedicated team working on new digital products which continues to enhance our value proposition. The challenges, going forward, would be to keep pace with the rapidly changing consumer expectations from digital experiences and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning would play a critical role in this journey.
How do you think the digital transformation vision is related to a larger business vision? Can you cite instances of how digital initiatives helped achieve business goals?
Over years, businesses have transformed several times. Digital is just a method to achieve this transformation in the most effective way. Digital transformation vision must be in sync with the overall business strategy. Led by the senior leadership of an organisation, digital transformation requires cross-departmental collaboration in pairing business-focused philosophies with rapid application development models. For VFS Global, our primary stakeholders are our client governments and visa application customers. Considering, the expanse of our global mandate, we need to keep evolving and adapting new and hybrid solutions for effective, reliable, and secure IT operations. We are managing advancements with the help of technology, enabling growth, meeting local compliance, expanding our services portfolio, and diversifying the business. We have continuously used technology to redefine our service standards and strengthen our position as industry leaders. For our client governments, we added additional process efficiencies, primarily from improvements enabled through digital tools like IVR (interactive voice response) for our helplines and Chatbot help desks, which will support employees in completing critical application tasks faster, thus improving turnaround times and reducing errors. Likewise, an important solution introduced by VFS Global for governments, is LIDPro or Location Independent Document Processing. Client governments have been able to reduce the number of visa officers involved in visa processing – a resounding success led by a digital solution.
Given that you operate in an extremely data-sensitive space where security is very significant, how do ensure that data is secured even when digital initiatives today also call for robust cloud adoption or an as-a-service model?
VFS Global always had data security as its prime directive, even before the proliferation of next generation cloud offerings. Data, whether ‘at source’ or ‘in transit’ or ‘at rest’, has always been accorded top-notch security. While the Cloud and XaaS models bring a lot of advantages to the table, security is best achieved by having a bespoke strategy that is unique to the cybersecurity challenges of each organisation. VFS Global has a strong Defense-in-Depth architecture that applies across the People-Process-Technology Triad. Our security strategy is not just about having latest security products or services but having a highly customised model that meets the requirements VFS Global is expected to deliver.
How are you balancing the need for being more inbound to ensure data protection and at the same time avail the convenience of agility, flexibility, cost savings, etc.?
It is more about prioritising than balancing. Handling personal data is central to VFS Global. Therefore, there are no compromises in this area. Data protection trumps cost savings every time. At VFS Global, the first step is to ensure that data always remains protected throughout its lifecycle, until it is purged. Once this is done, then come the aspects of solution fitment, agility, and scalability, and then of course, cost efficiency. We believe in achieving savings through innovation, cutting out wastage and economies of scale, without any impacts on data protection and data security.