Modernisation Release 2 under scrutiny

July 2, 2011 — Leave a comment

Significant changes to South African Customs internal declaration processing and inspection procedures were introduced just over two weeks ago under the banner of Release 2. From the outset it was clear that while technical developments had attained a level of stability through a substantial testing process, both internally and with external traders, the real impact would only be gauged upon implementation, or to quote a ‘sage’ in SARS – when the users begin to use the system in anger.

For traders, the biggest challenge lay in two areas: use of the new E@syScan software – a facility to scan, package and submit shipping documents to Customs – the intellectual property having been provided ‘free of charge’ to the industry’s service providers for integration in their proprietary offerings to the business community. Secondly, the operational interaction of traders with Customs branch offices in regard to the new case management and inspection system.

As was expected, there were some issues which challenged users, particularly in the area of amendment declaration processing (VOCs) and the inspection process. Tempers flared and patience was pushed to the limit. In some instances  delays resembled the kind of customs response times last seen prior to implementation of EDI in 2000. There were times too, when frustration levels so overwhelmed local customs staff, the issues spewed over to confront head office personnel.

Let’s not forget that there are no exemptions from financial loss during times like these. It’s not as though supply chain operators are going to be lenient and forgiving for shortcomings and delays in other quarters. No, these are the times of frustration and distress. On the one hand, the potential (and reality) of loss of business, and on the other, a yearning desire for better insight and judgement as to what to do when things are haywire.  At the heart of this lies the technology with it’s numerous interfaces, store and call procedures, dealing with the millions of instructions per second on which hang the expectations of all the users across the country. It matters not how much scenario testing and training occurred prior to implementation – this is the real deal.

The shortcomings of Customs have been highlighted by many, but the pandemonium and chaos at service provider call centres and indeed at clearing and forwarding houses escapes scrutiny and criticism. A finger-pointing exercise is most definitely counter-productive. What has been planned through the Modernisation Programme is indeed with the best intentions of the country in mind – of this most parties will agree. The fact that people’s comfort zones are jolted is what causes the pain.

With the logic and decision-making of customs and trade business activities becoming more and more embedded in the information systems we use, the frustration and helplessness of the user will continue until such time as these systems stabilise and the users become more trusting. The ‘challenge’ for systems builders and users lies in their ability and willingness to communicate and exchange the issues, solutions, and temporary workarounds. Clearly we have some way to go in this department. Users want systems and the convenience they bring. They are however not very forgiving when things go wrong; tolerance and understanding in short supply. Get used to this; there are at least another half-dozen forthcoming Modernisation Releases. In Part2 I’ll discuss some of the transitional pains which lie ahead. I also encourage readers to share their views on the matter – please be constructive.

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