A passport to digital

Fiona Penollar, Director of Passport Services (PPS) Ireland, discusses the digital journey in bringing about process efficiencies and better customer outcomes for the trusted national identity document.

Outlining the challenging context in which Passport Services operates, Penollar states that demographic changes, continued interest in overseas travel, the wider use of the passport as an identity document and Brexit all point to a growing demand above the 820,000 passports issued in 2018.

Added to this, the family situation in Ireland has become more complex, which in recent years has led to the need for greater detailed attention to more applications. At the same time, issues around security have somewhat shifted. As the trusted national identity document, the passport’s security features have greatly enhanced in recent years, like in many other countries around the world. Globally, there is recognition that the improvement of security features within the book have seen a move from criminals trying to counterfeit books towards identity theft and in particular through techniques such as morphing.

Outlining why recognition of this is important in the digital journey, Penollar says: “The challenges to the integrity of the passport are only going to increase in the years ahead and if we don’t address these challenges they have the potential to damage Ireland’s reputation, such as our visa-free access by our citizens to other countries.”

Currently Ireland holds a ranking of fourth in league tables of the world’s most powerful passports, judged on the strength of visa-free access to other countries around the globe. “By identifying, preventing and combatting fraud we aim to maintain the strong reputation of the Irish passport. We want to at least keep it at fourth and even have ambitions to move into the top three,” she adds.

In 2015, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade commenced the development of a design and reform programme for Passport Services, aiming to address the service’s needs over the following decade with a 21 million capital investment plan running to 2021.

Penollar points to a recognition that the application systems and business processes running in 2015, designed in 2002 and implemented in 2005, needed to be transformed in the context of rapid technology evolution. However, as she explains, the first steps of digital transformation actually originated with the off-line product, the passport book.

“In 2013 we launched a new passport book to allow for the removal of the laser signature and instead accommodate for a bearer to sign their book on receipt, which had previously been a huge blocker in terms of allowing for online applications,” she says.

“In parallel, we had to look at our appointments system and our interactions with people.” Painting a picture whereby at the height of demand, some people were waiting up to nine hours to be seen at a passport office and describing it as “a horrible experience for customers and for staff”, Penollar adds: “The introduction of an appointments system seemed logical but it was a big step and it totally transformed how we the passport service interact with the public.”

The Director emphasises the ambition to create a better service for the customer as central to the PPS’s journey and this ambition was the driver in the introduction of a passport card. Innovative in its design to both be easily carried by a person and to operate as an identity document, the pilot project was launched in parallel with an app and is described by Penollar as an “ideal testing bed” for future digital applications.

“We learned two important lessons from the passport card trial. Firstly, that an app was not going to be suitable for passport applications and secondly, that digital photo submission was going to be a challenge.”

Passport Services used this learning to launch a new “accessible, responsive online web application system” for online for adult renewals in 2017. The new system drastically reduced the number of steps required to be taken by an applicant.

Penollar adds: “The fundamental principle that we had in designing the service was that the customer retained options. We wanted to ensure that no one was left behind through digitisation and we wanted to ensure that we were accommodating those who did not want to use online and those who did want to use it but needed help in doing so.”

Highlighting how this flexibility can be demonstrated in the recognised challenging area of ensuring photos are of passport quality, the Director emphasises the importance of options for the customer. In this instance customers are given three options:

  1. The traditional route of having a passport taken professionally and physically submitted;
  2. Taking a photo on your own device, ensuring it meets the required standards; and
  3. Using one of the Passport Services partnered photo booths, which supplies a code to be entered online.

The result was that in the first year there were over 300,000 online adult renewal applications online and the Passport Service gained the confidence to open online child renewals, despite increased levels of complexity, in November 2018.

So far in 2019, over 70 per cent of eligible renewal applications (both adult and children) have used the service. “From our point of view it means that online applications are being dealt with four times quicker than paper based applications and this has allowed us to transform the service we offer customers. Currently, 12 per cent of online applications are processed in a day, 50 per cent within a week and 100 per cent within two weeks.

“It’s also meant a major change for us internally, where we can now free up our people to focus on higher value added tasks. However, while it has been pleasing to see that our service has impressed customers, we recognise that expectations will continue to increase and as a result we must constantly raise the bar of our own performance.”

Concluding, Penollar highlights that key to the success has been partnerships with the private sector, across government and internally. Highlighting that reform has been a major cultural change for many of the Service’s staff, she highlights the influence of:

  • leadership: Developing a culture of effective leadership to ensure that change is introduced successfully and sustained;
  • organisation and structure change: Delivering effective organisational change to facilitate achievement of reform objectives and the ongoing management of change;
  • skills and training: To provide the PPS with the right information, tools, skills and understanding to successfully implement the programme deliverables and respond to future service needs; and
  • relationships: Develop and deliver key messages and ensure wide awareness of the reform programme, buy-in and ownership with all internal and external stakeholder groups.

Not willing to rest on their laurels, Penollar outlines ambitions to continue the digital journey including plans to this year incorporate robotic process automation and the rollout of new internal digital processes and supporting technology, which could reduce turnaround time by a further two days. By 2021, PPS are hoping to be able to support first time applicants applying online.

“While we will continue to have choice as a basis to our customer service as we continue on our digital journey our underlying ambition is to create an online system that is so attractive the citizens will increasingly see it as the best option.”]


Barry Doyle

Since graduating with an MSc in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in 1994 Barry has worked as a GIS / IT professional and business consultant in various roles in both the public and private sector in Ireland. With over 13 years’ experience working as a Project Leader in the Irish Local Government Sector Barry has been responsible for leading and delivering various innovative projects at both a Local Authority and Sectoral level with a particular focus on Digital Transformation, Geographical Information Systems, Information Management and Open Data.

Prior to joining Galway County Council in November 2018 Barry championed, defined and led the Digital Transformation Programme in Roscommon Country Council with the overall aim of embracing opportunities presented by ongoing advances in the digital technologies, broadband availability and capacity, and Cloud based enterprise solutions to transform how the Council provides services to, and interacts with, the citizens it serves. In line with this Barry completed a Special Certificate in Designing Innovative Services with Cork Institute of Technology in 2018.


Gemma Garvan

Gemma Garvan is Director of Informatics at St James’s Hospital in Dublin which last year became the first digital acute hospital in Ireland, which is the start of a landmark change for how care is delivered.  Gemma is an experienced Health Informatics Leader with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital and health care industry.  Prior to taking up her role at St James’s Hospital in 2018 she was Head of Access to Information at Healthlink. Gemma began work as an analyst programmer with The National Healthlink Project and moved into a project management role over a decade ago. Gemma has a BSc in computer science and software engineering and an MA from Trinity College in Dublin.

Barry Lowry

Barry Lowry is CIO for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, a position he was appointed to in 2016. He is tasked with delivering the Public Service ICT Strategy. Prior to 2016, he spent almost 35 years in the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) on work ranging from the programming of mainframe computers to operating as a team leader in the design of client server systems. For the five years prior to his appointment, Lowry was the director who oversaw the establishment of ICT shared services in NICS. He also operated as the Head of Profession for ICT. In 2011 he was voted the Northern Ireland IT Professional of the Year by his associates.

Kieran O’Hea

A native of Cork, Kieran O’Hea is Leicester City Council’s Head of Smart Cities, where he is leading the implementation of a Smart City Strategy that is city-needs led and demand-driven. He was formerly Chief Digital Officer of Brisbane, where he led the development of the city’s digital economy strategy. Before focusing on city strategies, Kieran led the development of digital strategies for a number of government agencies in Dublin. He has also worked for the European Commission, developing funding programmes in the area of digital content.

Donal Spellman

Donal Spellman is Principal Officer, Digital Services Channel at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. He joined the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in 2010 working initially in employment support policy and then as a Divisional Manger before moving to the Digital Service Division in 2016. Donal has a keen interest in service design & building online services around customer need.  Experience in other Departments including the Department of Finance, Agriculture and the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General concentrated around policy formation and public policy and expenditure evaluation.

Tim Willoughby

Tim Willoughby is Head of Digital Services and Innovation at An Garda Síochána. He was formerly CTO of the LGMA, with over 20 years in a number of Senior Management and Technical Roles in the Local Government Sector. He has been working in the Public service for almost 28 years. Tim has a Civil Engineering Degree from TCD and a Masters in Innovation from the University of Ulster.

Moyagh Murdock

Moyagh Murdock has been in the transport sector for over 20 years in various capacities. Currently, Moyagh is the Chief Executive Officer at the Road Safety Authority. In her early career she spent 10 years in the airline industry having worked at Bombardier in Belfast as an aircraft systems engineer. She was then Chief Operating Officer for Bus Éireann having joined the Company in 2007 as the Deputy Chief Mechanical Engineer with responsibility for the fleet maintenance and garage operations. In 2012 she was awarded an MBA from Dublin City University (DCU) and holds a Certificate of Professional Competence in Road Transport Operations Management.

Caron Alexander

Caron Alexander is Director of Digital Shared Services at the Northern Ireland Civil Service.  She has more than 30 years of experience in the UK public sector.  Caron is responsible for providing ICT shared services to 27,000 staff, for the NI citizen portal www.nidirect.gov.uk and contact centre services, delivering the NI Digital Transformation Programme and driving forward the NI Open Data agenda.  Previously Caron held a number of senior technical, programme and change management roles in the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

Contact Us


eolas magazine
Clifton House
Lower Fitzwilliam Street
Dublin 2, D02 XT91


Tel: +353 (0)1 661 3755
Email: info@eolasmagazine.ie
Twitter: @eolasmagazine

Michael Redmond

Michael Redmond is Chief Operating Officer at the Office of the CIO/eHealthIreland. A highly experienced leader within eHealth and Digital, Michael has a reputation for delivering results, driving excellence and building capability in each and every one of his career roles to date. Hugely experienced across the public sector, he is known to be acutely customer focussed; his strategy of simplifying the digital agenda resonates with the C-suite, staff and the general public alike. As COO, Michael manages the largest ICT investment budget in the whole public sector. Also a qualified and certified CIO, Michael studied Computer Science at Trinity College Dublin.

Stella Power

In 2008, Stella founded Annertech, Ireland’s leading open-source digital agency. Since its inception, Annertech have grown to become the "go to" Drupal experts in Ireland and work with a variety of clients in both the private and public sectors. Stella is an active contributor to the Drupal open-source content management system, and maintains many modules including Commerce Realex, Commerce Donate and Code Review. She is a member of the international Drupal Security Team, and was recently chairperson of the Drupal Ireland Association.

Dominic Byrne

Dominic Byrne is Head of Information Technology with Fingal County Council and has 26 years’ experience working in IT.  He holds a Degree in Information Technology and a Masters in Internet Systems.  He is responsible for managing the provision of IT services in Fingal County Council and his current interests include Digital Government, Smart Cities and Civic Tech.  He is a member of the Smart Dublin Executive Committee and the Public Bodies Working Group on Open Data.

Bill McCluggage

Bill McCluggage is Managing Director of Laganview Associates Ltd. He became the first CIO for the Irish Government in 2013 and was CIO for the Northern Ireland Civil Service (2005 – 2009). He joined the Cabinet Office in 2009 as deputy UK Government CIO. While in the Cabinet Office he was the Executive Director responsible for the UK Government’s ICT Strategy and was instrumental in the development of the Government G-Cloud, and was SRO for the Identity Assurance Programme, now GOV.UK Verify.

Charlie Weijer

Charlie Weijer is Area Vice President for DocuSign.  He is an experienced business leader, with proven sales and business development abilities. He has developed and executed growth strategies across EMEA in multiple high-tech organisations. He specialises in Sales, Sales operations, pipeline development and management. DocuSign is a hyper growth “startup” of over 300 people, Charlie has been responsible for scaling and leading the EMEA continental sales teams since 2015. He combines strong interpersonal, communication and negotiating skills, with a highly analytical mind. He completed an Executive MBA in 2013 at Smurfit School of Business to complete his academic profile and further complement relevant business experience. Charlie is passionate about coaching people.

Jane Carolan

Jane Carolan is National Director for Health Business Services at the Health Service Executive.  Jane is particularly focused on maximising digital business transformation within the health sector. She was instrumental in driving forward the national Electronic Health Record for Ireland. She is a member of the HSE Leadership Team and previously held the positions of Head of Planning and Corporate Performance and also Interim CIO of the Office of the CIO for six months.  Jane has over 20 years of experience in senior management roles within the health system. Jane has recently won two awards; IT Professional of the Year 2018 and was recognised as one of the CIO 100, 2019.

Dr Finn de Brí

Dr Finn de Bri is Chief Information Officer for the Houses of the Oireachtas, with responsibility for the Oireachtas Digital Transformation, which is a multi-annual transformation, incorporating 7 programmes of development and over 100 projects. Prior to this he was head of Taxes and Customs software application development in the Office of the Revenue Commissioners. He holds a PhD in Information Systems from Trinity College Dublin.

Dr. Aileen McHugh

Dr. Aileen McHugh is Head of Operations at the Property Registration Authority (PRA) with a broad brief which includes overall responsibility for functions including HR, Finance, ICT, Corporate Services, Casework and Customer Service, Spatial Data and Mapping, Quality, Governance and Compliance. Since 2011 Aileen has gained expertise in embedding strategic workforce planning in the PRA.  PRA teams have been shortlisted and won several national awards for spatial data collaboration, diversity and inclusion initiatives, workforce planning, and most recently for the PRA’s innovative Property Alert Service.  The PRA is custodian of publicly valuable data assets and with the  rapidly changing global data landscape  Aileen’s interest has been focused most recently on issues relating to  emerging technologies and Data Governance, privacy and public registers.  Aileen holds a primary degree in Public Administration, a Masters in the Management of Change and a Doctorate in Business Administration. 

Cormac Murphy

Cormac has been involved with helping organizations transform digitally for over 10 years with experience at market-leading cloud organisations including Sage and Salesforce.com. He has developed a strong understanding of change across a wide range of industries, regions and viewpoints.

Currently responsible for Major accounts at DocuSign, Cormac leads the development of the Agreement Cloud community in Ireland. He holds a B.A. in Applied Languages from Technological University Dublin and speaks French and Spanish.

K Ananth Krishnan

As the Chief Technology Officer, Ananth directs Research, Innovation and Co-Innovation in TCS.  Under his leadership, TCS has created significant IP with business impact.  He has architected an industry-leading agile delivery model and has scaled innovation deep into business units.  He travels extensively to share his perspective on emerging digital trends with senior client teams in the public and private sector.  He also supports clients to implement the appropriate response to the threats and opportunities which these trends present. Ananth has been a member of the TCS Corporate Leadership team since 1999 and has led many strategic initiatives.  He has served on various Governing Councils of Academia, Industry Advisory Boards, and Government and Alumni committees.  He has previously been listed in Computerworld’s Premier 100 IT Leaders and in Infoworld’s Top 25 CTOs.

Damian Griffin

Damian is the Chief Technical Officer at the Defence Forces. Commandant Damian Griffin has successfully translated technology to the Defence Forces for over 20 years. Never one to accept the status quo, Damian is continually motivated to ensure the Defence Forces progress secure technology solutions in the right areas and for the right reasons. His current areas of focus are the umbrella of technologies required to deliver Digital Transformation with a close alignment to design thinking methodologies.