SSARM is one of the leading IT system integrators in Bulgaria and, following a tender from the Bulgarian Ministry of the Interior, last year received a major order to equip the Bulgarian aviation hubs with EES-compliant border control solutions.
In the meantime, SSARM, in cooperation with its German partner secunet, has fully installed a secure turnkey solution at Sofia, Varna and Burgas airports. Bulgaria was one of the first countries in Europe to fully prepare its busiest air borders for the EU-wide entry / exit system, long before it is expected to start in May 2022.
Nikolay Dimchev – Managing Director of SSARM – was asked about the project about his most interesting findings and the added value for passengers, border control and airports.
Q: What exactly do you have installed at the airports in Varna, Burgas and Sofia and why?
Dimchev: The reason for the introduction of new border control systems is closely related to the decision of the EU to introduce the entry / exit system in the entire Schengen area in 2022. By taking facial images and fingerprints, all Member States will in future know better which third-country nationals are entering the EU and ensure that individual passengers do not stay too long. This increases security for all of us.
The integration of these additional process steps in the primary border control threatens to collapse with unchanged infrastructures, because the processing takes an average of 40-45 seconds longer – per passenger! Process automation at all possible steps, including stationary border control counters, is therefore unavoidable. The Ministry of the Interior has therefore decided to comprehensively modernize the border control technology and entrusted us with the implementation. Then – in cooperation with our project partner secunet – we installed ABC gates, self-service kiosks as well as camera systems and fingerprint readers for the stationary counters at the three aviation hubs in Bulgaria. The technologies fulfill very different functions and are partly intended for different groups of passengers – but all the technologies together will noticeably accelerate the border control process and significantly reduce the workload of the officers responsible.
Q: Why did you decide to bring secunet on board as a partner for the EES implementation? SSARM is itself a well-positioned IT system integrator.
Dimchev: We have been working with secunet for a long time in the field of high security technologies and they have proven to us time and again in previous projects that the quality of their products is not only right, but also that it fully meets the requirements of our customers. The secunet experts simply understood the processes and requirements on the customer side well and implemented them accordingly in their products. That is why we contacted secunet for the EES project. Although we ourselves are excellently positioned as a system integrator who knows the Bulgarian market very well, we do not have our own product portfolio in this area.
We were also impressed by the EES solutions from secunet: They deliver EES-compliant biometric solutions that guarantee the best possible quality of biometric data and are designed with a high level of protection against circumvention and forgery. This is extremely important, especially in unattended systems where the officer is not right next to you and monitoring every passenger. And last but not least, all products are characterized by a very eye-catching, modern design – not to be underestimated in view of today’s innovative airport architecture.
Q: Modernizing the border control infrastructure was certainly a big investment. What are the benefits for passengers, airports and border controls?
Dimchev: The advantages are quickly summed up: passengers – no matter where they come from – now have access to automation technologies at the Bulgarian airports in Sofia, Varna and Burgas. If you will, they have at least part of their border crossing in their own hands. Thanks to intuitive user guidance and innovative security mechanisms, passengers can be sure that their data will be recorded quickly and processed securely and in compliance with data protection regulations. Of course, high-quality biometric registration is particularly important for the border police. In addition, the officers are optimally supported by the technologies and not burdened additionally. And the airports benefit from the fact that despite more extensive border control processes, which actually take more time, there are no significantly longer queues and missed connecting flights. In short: with automation and process optimization, we have ensured that time limits and the increasing number of passengers can be properly and safely intercepted even in “EES operation”.
Q: What are your main takeaways from this EES project?
Dimchev: Actually, we faced the same challenges in the EES project as in almost every IT project: If it becomes more concrete than a description on paper, it is not uncommon for new or changed requirements to arise on the customer side that have to be implemented at short notice in the ongoing project. This is completely normal and we can handle it very well.
With the EES installations, for example, we installed the most modern and safest products and found that this alone was not enough. Border control projects are about more than âjustâ installing technology. The products should optimize passenger processes and fit perfectly into the respective environment and infrastructure, which is different at every airport and on every land border. That was an important and new insight for us. In this specific case, we have also integrated functional expansions into the current project that were not planned beforehand. The installation of glass walls between stationary and automated border control or the construction of racks for the fingerprint scanners, which otherwise would not be perfectly positioned for the passengers, are small examples. Fortunately, together with secunet, we were able to offer all new customer requests quickly and in line with requirements, integrate them into the project implementation and still deliver on time.
Another important and certainly not new finding is that you have to react flexibly to the end and pay attention to details if you want perfectly fitting and visually appealing installations.
Q: Are there any other points that you would like to highlight?
Dimchev: The EES installation was our first border control project, our premiere, so to speak. We are proud and relieved that we completed the task to the full satisfaction of the Bulgarian Ministry of the Interior. Having the very experienced people from secunet on board was of course an enormous advantage for us. In times of this pandemic we learned a lot together and supported each other in the best possible way, even if we had to do this “remotely” for the majority of the project. Thanks to this perfect collaboration, we were able to implement the installations on schedule and achieve the customer’s stated goal: Bulgaria is one of the first countries in the EU to be equipped with an EES-compliant overall solution at the three aviation hubs, long before the official introduction of the Entry / exit system. We are proud of that.