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Market consultation underway for major Customs Reform Programme

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The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (Customs) is progressing its major Reform Programme by undertaking industry consultation on relevant IT systems and services to transform its current environment.

It has issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking industry input on how to modernise its current business systems including cargo and traveller processing systems, as part of major agency-wide reforms.

The Reform Programme, which will run from 2013 to 2017, was introduced in the agency’s 2013-18 Blueprint for Reform and its overall aim is to achieve the Service-wide reform which is needed to meet the agency’s vision “to protect Australia’s borders and foster lawful trade and travel”.

Reform at the agency is focused along three tracks: People and operating model; Modernisation; and Integrity. A core element of the Reform Programme is to modernise ICT systems and services to cope with increased international travel, trade and levels of organised crime.

The RFI identifies four ICT focussed areas in which the agency is endeavouring to scope the market for solutions:

  • Systems Integration;
  • Big Data Analytics;
  • Cloud Computing; and
  • Specialist software applications.

Under the Reform Programme the agency intends to design “a new technology platform that consolidates and standardises our IT systems”.

The agency plans to create a new traveller processing platform, “an integrated system that provides information about responsibilities to travellers, supports improved collaboration and data exchange with partner agencies and industry, and enables real-time assessment of persons of interest”.

The agency has also flagged a connected cargo systems project to be addressed over the next five years. The project endeavours to “integrate with trusted trader’s logistic systems to enable direct access” to their systems. Through the project, Customs hopes to better facilitate trade and combat criminal activity through increased links with stakeholders. It aligns with the Board’s recommendation to “break down any internal barriers to intelligence”.

A system called eCargo will also ensure all forms and application processes will be electronic for traders.

The RFI also lists Cloud Computing and Big Data Analytics as aspects for discussion. According to A Big Data Strategy- Issues Paper released in March 2013 by the then Department of Finance and Deregulation, “The cloud environment is suited to this kind of [Big Data] initiative as it offers capacity, scalability, resilience, efficiency and availability”.

The RFI is the first time the agency has expressed interest in addressing cloud computing within the Reform Programme as it does not feature in the Blueprint or the Corporate Plan Timeline. 

Other IT related Reforms involved in the Reform Programme include:

  • Implementing real time mobile technology among front-line officers to allow more information to feed into its intelligence pool;
  • Developing user-friendly portals such as mobile applications for small to medium traders to manage their own clearance arrangements; and
  • Investigating the use of next generation e-Gates and mobile e-Gates for traveller self-processing.

In December 2012, a Customs Reform Board was formed to oversee the programme. It is headed by Ken Moroney, former Police Commissioner in NSW; James Wood, the former Royal Commissioner in NSW and David Mortimer, the former CEO of TNT. 

The Customs Reform Board’s First Report released in June 2013 found that the agency has “numerous disparate and stand-alone systems”, which “contribute to an inhibited flow of information, which in turn reduces the ability to be responsive to demands”.

The report also identified a need for funding to support the Reform Programme “by a financial injection from Government and by redirecting funds from within the existing ACBPS budget to reform activities”.

These finding are supported by an Australian Public Services Commission Capability Review of Customs, released in May 2013, that found that “the agency cannot be described as having networked or integrated systems”, and that it does not currently “fully exploit modern technology”.

It identified that “poor IT system alignment to delivery is a significant issue across the agency”.

The Capability Review also reveals concerns about the level of funding for ICT at the agency, which devotes just 15 per cent of its budget to ICT as compared to the 22 per cent devoted by similar agencies. It identified stakeholder concerns that the agency’s systems have suffered from funding cuts and suggested that “the current state of play is unlikely to be sustainable without renewal of key systems in the near to mid-term.”

According to Intermedium’s AnalyseIT, Customs’ expenditure on ICT has fallen significantly in recent years. It had a total contract value (TCV) of just $77 million for ICT contracting in 2012-13, its lowest TCV in five years, down substantially on the five year peak TCV of $119.9 million in 2009-10.

The agency’s last attempt at a large scale ICT reform was the 1999 Cargo Management Re-engineering (CMR) project which endeavoured to improve import and export processes, increase management efficiency and better identify high risk cargo through the development of an integrated ICT system. Failures in the new system caused freight delays across the country when it was switched on. The $30 million project blew out to $205 million by 2006, when it was terminated. 

The RFI will close on 11 November 2013. The agency will be holding industry briefings in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra from 29 October to 31 October.

View Customs profile on GovFacts >>>

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For more information, please contact the Editor (02) 9955 9896.

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  • Federal
  • IT Services
  • Border Security
  • 2013-18 Blueprint for Reform
  • Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
  • Big Data Analytics
  • Big Data Strategy
  • Cloud Computing
  • David Mortimer
  • eCargo
  • James Wood
  • Ken Moroney
  • RFI
  • Systems Integration