After 20 years in business, Ottawa-based WorldReach seizing digital ID opportunities in U.K.

Gordon Wilson
Gordon Wilson

The chaos of Brexit has accelerated demand for digital visas and identification software, opening up opportunities for an Ottawa-based software firm that’s been in the game for two decades.

WorldReach Software, a subsidiary of local IT services firm Amita, develops digital ID solutions for governments and border agencies in countries such as Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands. The firm spun off in 1998 and boasts a headcount of 35 at its Queensview Drive offices in addition to a subsidiary set up in the United Kingdom a few months ago.

It’s in the British nation where WorldReach has seized its most recent opportunity: a multimillion-GBP deal to provide digital ID verification services to the U.K. Home Office as the border agency deals with the administrative behemoth that is Brexit.

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Breaking down Brexit

As the U.K. endeavours to extricate itself from the European Union, EU nationals who have settled in the U.K. have been left in a tricky situation. The U.K. has therefore offered a chance for the estimated 3.8 million British residents in this situation to apply for “settled status,” similar to how immigrants to Canada can claim permanent resident status without being Canadian citizens.

Asking the nearly four million residents to go into a passport office or send off their documents by mail would be an administrative headache, at best. That’s where WorldReach’s platform Know Your Traveller comes in.

The Ottawa firm’s software, which is usually used to identify travellers and verify travel documents before reaching the airport or the border, allows users to take a picture of their passport as well as a selfie to verify their ID and documentation to begin their settled status applications.

“So, rather than have people fill out a very complicated form and have to come into an office and present ID, the UK government wanted to allow them to remotely identify and verify their ID document … allowing them to have a digital path to apply for settled status,” says WorldReach president Gordon Wilson.

While WorldReach has been working with the Canadian government on different applications for remote verification technologies for the past three years, Wilson says Brexit has accelerated the overseas demand for the software.

“What Brexit did really was put a tight timeline – they have to get this up and running in about a year to be ready to go,” he says.

With this multi-year deal and a new subsidiary set up in the U.K., Wilson sees opportunities to expand remote verification applications into other aspects of the British system, such as online passport renewal or if the government introduced a visa waiver program.

Beyond borders

Borders around the world are a growing market opportunity, Wilson adds. Last year, the World Tourism Organization projected that annual global tourism levels, which stood at 1.2 billion travellers in 2016, would increase to 1.8 billion people crossing borders in 2030.

Rather than increase capacity at international airports, Wilson suggests the more viable solution is to process travellers more efficiently, something remote ID verification and technologies such as biometric identification can help with.

“For low-risk travellers – the vast majority – they want to process them quickly, but you have to know who’s coming and you have to check your identity,” he says. “And that’s really what we do.”

Outside of the travel industry, Wilson says there are market opportunities in the concept of a “federated identity” – linking an individual’s electronic identities across multiple sources to create a holistic, authenticated view of a person. In a similar vein, WorldReach’s Know Your Traveller platform could be used to authenticate online purchases of age-restricted products and other private-sector uses.

“We focus heavily on the travel sector, but how can we use this high-quality, government-issued document that’s recognized globally to assist in confirming the identity of a person in general, for a whole variety of electronic transactions and digital service delivery?” Wilson asks, posing a rhetorical question for the company’s future.

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