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Customs Computer System


Patch-ups keep Freight Moving


Ben Woodhead
OCTOBER 10, 2006

THE Australian Customs Service will continue to update and debug its troubled integrated cargo system into next year amid predictions that manual work-arounds for the $205 million platform will be required for at least another two years.

The agency, freight forwarders and software developers have spent the past year working on fixes for the system, which went live on October 12, 2005.

The system was riddled with problems and threatened to derail last year's Christmas shipments as cargo containers piled up in ports around the country.

"Clearly there were initial problems in October and November," Customs trade facilitation deputy chief executive Neil Mann said.

Relations between Customs and freight forwarders have thawed since.

Customs is to decide in the next few weeks how regularly to provide fixes and updates for the system in 2007. System updates are made monthly at present.

"There are obviously trade-offs between getting improvements into production as quickly as you can and the complexity of managing the change if it's too frequent," Mr Mann said.

Richard White, managing director of freight forwarding software developer EDI, was wary of major changes to the system, as small modifications continued to throw up unexpected hurdles.

However, he said, ahead of the first anniversary of the cut-over to the system on Thursday, Customs and freight forwarders were working together.

"People talk about the date like it's September 11.

"A lot of people for the three months after cut-over were talking about it like it was the Twin Towers collapsing," he said.

"It's not too bad now. It's not fair to say there are no problems, but issues that are around now are much more manageable and there's a constant stream of resolutions."

Mr White said outages to the system remained "regular" and they were often triggered by new updates and work-arounds.

Bob Wallace, managing director of Wallace International and chairman of the Customs Brokers and Forwarders Council of Australia, said there had been two major outages since June and he expected work-arounds to remain in place for some time.

"We're 12 months down the track and we're still using work-arounds. We're still 20 per cent down on productivity, but we're making the cargo move by dealing with the process in place at the moment," Mr Wallace said.

"Work-arounds will probably be in place for at least another two years. Customs is telling us that because of fundamental design problems it's not going to be easy to change them all."

Customs was processing the $9 million in compensation claims it had received relating to the system's introduction, he said.

It had made 425 full or part offers to settle the claims and 250 of those offers had been accepted.

The Australian


Good to hear that the new system wasn't as big a disaster as the Twin Towers collapse. Sort of puts it all in perspective.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
kerravonsen
13th Nov, 2006 20:52 (UTC)
Did you see it coming? Is that why you left?
hawkeye7
13th Nov, 2006 21:57 (UTC)
No, I left because I was retrenched - made redundant - when Customs outsourced all of its IT activities in 1998.

I did see it all coming from a long way off - before the project even started. This did not require any special skill with a crystal ball and I certainly wasn't alone. I'm sure you would have seen it too. For example, the project plan had a long schedule precisely stating the date when work on each of the major components of the very large system would be commenced but scanning down the list I found that the first deliverable was scheduled for just two weeks before the entire system was due. And this was but one of a great many features that I considered major alarm bells. Unfortunately, due to outsourcing, Customs lost all its expertise in not only IT but business analysis as well and went into the project as if it were the organisation's very first.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )