Having considered that commonality and harmonisation in Customs lies more in data and less in format, it is nevertheless still important to consider the state and readiness of all customs administrations, particularly where the innovation of one effects another.
The biggest issue with technology-lead modernisation lies in the fact that an IT solution delivers, in most instances, ‘intangible’ characteristics – not always possible to feel, to touch, or to understand. Little wonder then customs users and traders are bewildered if not a bit confused with the resulting ‘change’ at first. The burden to manage such ‘change’ often lies with staff who have limited understanding of the technology and limited time to ‘educate’ the user. And, on the import/export trading front as I have mentioned before, there is an increasing tendency or responsibility among’st service providers to provide relevant training.
For the customs official, what once represented a semblance of control, of influence, is rendered obsolete. For instance, the introduction of automated workflow – which effectively drives the customs process according to specified functions attached to configurable user profiles – manages and monitor’s the user’s activities and performance. This dramatically increases the organisation’s ability to review and report on individuals, branch teams, and regional performance.
In SARS’ case, the new software solution mimics the look an feel of organic items such as documents and forms. Barcodes now replace official customs stamps (yes, those rubber things that once indicated official approval), and the combination of automated risk management coupled with structured workflow virtually eliminates discretion – discretion now limited to drop-down menus and tick box options.
To address the impact of innovation on the customs and supply chain process, a communication strategy is vital. Any change which dramatically reduces turnaround and response times on one side of a land border crossing fundamentally impact the activities on the other side – its simple algebra: what you do to the one side you ought to do to the other. What purpose does modernisation serve if it benefits trade only partially? Regional cooperation therefore behoves the initiating party to facilitate and assist neighbours in refining the overall border processing experience, benefiting all.
Recently, regional endeavours on information exchange and cross-border harmonisation have gained traction. With all the political overturing concerning intra-African trade, the creation of broader free trade areas, and the realisation that all of this can only succeed with a combined regional effort, Africa Customs is certainly attempting to address its own past barriers and limitations.