Customs doumentation goes paperless with EDI expansion

Customs paperwork is about to become a thing of the past for exporters, who will be able to lodge Customs New Zealand documentation via EDI (electronic data interchange) from June. Currently only importers have this ability, with about 300 customers doing around 850,000 transactions a year. But once the project is up and running, Customs New Zealand expects a dramatic jump in the number of users - up to 1000 customers generating 3.5 million transactions per annum.

Customs paperwork is about to become a thing of the past for exporters, who will be able to lodge Customs New Zealand documentation via EDI (electronic data interchange) from June.

Currently only importers have this ability, with about 300 customers doing around 850,000 transactions a year. But once the project is up and running, Customs New Zealand expects a dramatic jump in the number of users - up to 1000 customers generating 3.5 million transactions per annum.

In addition, low value consignments involving very little or no duty will go from manual processing to EDI.

The EDI expansion project is part of the $22 million Customs Modernisation Project (CusMod) which has already seen the implementation of a national call centre for all Customs New Zealand business.

CusMod EDI project leader Allen Bruford says the EDI project is the largest component of the modernisation programme. The government organisation began using EDI in 1978 and is now the largest user in New Zealand. It is replacing its old EDI system CASPER, running on an ICL mainframe, with a client/server environment running a Sybase database database on Sun Enterprise Servers with Solaris 2.5.

“We’ve been working in partnership with Andersen Consulting on the modernisation programme, and they’ve been quite amazed at what we’ve been able to do with the old CASPER system over the years,” says Bruford.

“Unfortunately, it’s at the stage where it costs more to keep it running than to replace it, and where it can just handle the demands growing trade volumes are placing on it.”

Bruford believes Customs will be one of the first organisations in the world to use the new version 96B of the UN/EDIFACT (United Nations Electronic Data Interchange for Administation, Commerce and Trade) standard. The main feature of the new standard is that it allows user to break transactions down to consignment level, he says.

So far about 50 developers have been sent guidelines for the new EDI system.

“Thanks to the input from Statistics New Zealand, and extensive consultation with industry, importer and exporter groups, and producer boards, we believe that we have very good guidelines. So many of the requirements of users have been met that there won’t be any surprises," says Bruford.

Despite the advent of electronic commerce over the Internet, Bruford says EDI is still the most suitable platform for Customs New Zealand.

“For structured regulatory commerce type messages nothing beats EDI at the moment. Over time, some of the security and data integrity issues of the Internet will be resolved so we’re building in the potential to take messages in any method provided it meets the criteria.”

The spin-offs for Customs’ clients - importers, exporters, excise and the government agencies it collects trade figures for - include faster turn-around and improved data accuracy.

Still to go in the CusMod project is the job of bringing the airline intelligence and passenger processing systems into the new Customs environment.

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