Passport Canada, Director, Strategic Management
Passport Canada forecasts demand delivery with SAS®
Only a decade ago just 25 percent of Canadians owned a passport. Today that number has more than doubled to 57 percent. And while Passport Canada is a government organization, it doesn’t receive any funding, which means it has to generate enough revenue to cover its expenses – from employees to real estate – without making a profit. With constant fluctuations in demand for passports, it turned to SAS to help forecast future demand.
We don’t have a lot of resources, so we have to be careful how we spend money, and that’s why it’s important for us to have these tools and develop a discipline to use that information. For us it’s about producing sound forecasts and having the right information, at the right time, to make decisions. Ultimately, it’s about improving the service we provide to Canadians.
For Passport Canada, forecasting is essential to determining revenues and resources needed in the coming fiscal year. Demand over the past couple of years has been inconsistent, however, partly due to new US regulations that require Canadian citizens to be in possession of a passport to cross the border into the United States. As a government agency, Passport Canada makes efficient service delivery to the Canadian public a priority; by employing analytics, it ensures the quality and timeliness of its passport application process.
“Buying a passport is not something you do every day,” says Hubert Laferrière, Director of Strategic Management with Passport Canada, who is responsible for economic analysis and business planning. “You don’t plan to buy a passport. You plan to go on a trip, and then if you need a passport you’ll buy it.”
And that means demand is inconsistent. Similar to a retail business, Passport Canada is selling a product – which in this case consists of new passports and renewals of previous passports – and it needs to manage the revenue of that product for its operations.
When the first phase of the American passport requirement occurred in 2007, Passport Canada predicted a 7 to 8 percent increase in demand and ended up with a 20 percent increase. This disconnect served as a catalyst for change when it came to forecasting patterns of demand. The analytics team, which consists of five to six analysts depending on the season, was spending most of its time capturing and cleaning data, rather than using that data to develop models and forecasts or developing a true business intelligence capability.
SAS Forecast Server
These forecasts help determine the operating budget, which affects all other functions of the organization – from HR to IT.
“Using SAS Forecast Server, we’ve started to understand behaviours of applicants,” says Laferrière.
Passport Canada has learned, for example, that people in Ontario have a tendency to buy a passport three to four months in advance, while people in Quebec and the Maritimes buy at the last minute.
“The behaviour in terms of acquiring a passport is different across the country, and this information helps us align our resources with these patterns” Laferrière says. ”And at a regional level, we can use different parameters to adjust demand.”
When there’s a slowdown or increase in demand, the agency can adjust to shifts through the use of part-time and casual employees. This data can also be used to model new initiatives, determine if a new delivery channel is necessary, make adjustments to a current channel or make improvements to products.
The analytics team provides forecasts three times a year for the upcoming 12 to 18 months, but also provides monthly reports at the national, regional and office level. These reports provide specific indicators in areas such as production, capacity, human resources and costs versus revenues, and are sent to all directors of the organization so key decision makers receive information regularly.
But there are also benefits for its most important stakeholder: the Canadian public. Analytics is being used to improve services, such as determining the shortest wait times in specific passport offices across the country. And Passport Canada is able to turn around a five-year passport in less than 10 business days, which ranks as one of the fastest, still secure, systems in the world.
Passport Canada is on an ongoing quest for more data to provide more indicators for forecasting. The agency is working with SAS on a data integration solution that will automate its data preparation through SAS Data Integration Studio and model business processes through SAS Activity-Based Management. In addition, SAS has provided consulting services and on-site training for analysts.
“We don’t have a lot of resources, so we have to be careful how we spend money, and that’s why it’s important for us to have these tools and develop a discipline to use that information,” says Laferrière. “For us it’s about producing sound forecasts and having the right information, at the right time, to make decisions. Ultimately it’s about improving the service we provide to Canadians.”
As a self-funded government agency, Passport Canada needed to better forecast its revenues and demand to appropriately allocate budget and resources, while improving service delivery and customer satisfaction.
SAS Forecast Server
SAS Data Integration Studio
SAS Activity-Based Management
Passport Canada has improved its forecast accuracy to within .01 percent. Analysts have reduced time spent capturing and cleaning data by 10 percent. The agency can now turn passport requests around in 10 business days; one of the fastest and most secure systems in the world.