Novopay lessons delay Customs IT upgrade

Joint Border Management computer system delayed three months

Another major government information technology project has experienced the wobbles, but has been delayed, ostensibly to reduce the risk of another Novopay.

Customs says it will take three months longer than it originally anticipated for importers and exporters to experience any benefits from the initial $75 million investment in a new Joint Border Management computer system, JBMS.

IBM had been due to deliver the first tranche of JBMS, which is a joint initiative between Customs and the Ministry for Primary Industries, last month.

Customs deputy comptroller Robert Lake said the agencies have decided to push back the launch and deliver the project in stages. "As a result of other systems that have been in development, we have got a really clear message quality is paramount," he says.

Technology that will let importers and exporters enter information required by border authorities directly and once only through an electronic screen called a "single trade window" is now to be introduced in July.

Other parts of the first tranche of JBMS, such as new tools that will help Customs and the ministry better identify biosecurity and other security risks, will not all be delivered until some time next year.

Lake says there was no single reason for the delay. Customs had requested changes to the software developed by IBM, which had met its performance targets, he says.

Importers and exporters will be able to continue using existing electronic commerce intermediaries, such as Australian-owned former NZ Post subsidiary ECN, to lodge documentation with Customs, which will reduce the risk of the changeover, Lake said.

"We are quite confident continuity of business isn't going to be disrupted."

Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Association (CBFFA) president Willie van Heusden indicated the association was comfortable with the change.

"We are guided by Customs, but as far as we are concerned any information technology project, especially one as big and ambitious as this, will always run behind schedule," he says.

"We don't want a Novopay or Incis on our hands. If that means the project is going to slip out by three to six months, so be it."

The first tranche of JBMS is being piloted by Mondiale, Cargowise and Fedex. CBFFA had received an update from Customs at its annual conference two weeks ago and was being kept in the loop, van Heusden said.

There is a silver lining for consumers. Customs had planned to lift the import entry transaction fee from $38.07 to $46.89 last month. The fees are charged at a flat rate on all import consignments, including personal purchases, worth more than $400.

But the fee rise has also been deferred to coincide with the first benefits of JBMS being delivered in July.

The Government agreed in 2011 to contribute $75 million towards the capital cost of JBMS, which it says will cost $204 million to build and operate up to 2021.

Once the first tranche of JBMS is complete, a decision will be made on whether to build a second tranche of the system that would let Customs fully retire its 16-year-old mainframe-based Cusmod computer system.

Lake said the cost of the first tranche will exceed its original budget as Customs had decided to bring forward some features that it had intended to leave until tranche two, such as risk assessment tools for food imports.

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