SA – Hub for computerised Regional Integration?

AfricaFrom time to time it is nice to reflect on a good news story within the local customs and logistics industry. Freight & Trade Weekly’s (2015.11.06, page 4) article – “SA will be base for development of single customs platform” provides such a basis for reflection. The article reports on the recent merger of freight industry IT service providers Compu-Clearing and Core Freight and their plans to establish a robust and agile IT solution for trade on the African sub-continent.

In recent years local software development companies have facilitated most of the IT changes emerging from the Customs Modernisation Programme. Service Providers also known as computer bureaus have been in existence as far back as the early 1980’s when Customs introduced its first automated system ‘CAPE’. They have followed and influenced Customs developments that have resulted in the modern computerised and electronic communication platforms we have today. For those who do not know there are today at least 20 such service providers bringing a variety of software solutions to the market. Several of these provide a whole lot more than just customs software, offering solutions for warehousing, logistics and more. As the FTW article suggests, ongoing demands by trade customers and the ever-evolving technology space means that these software solutions will offer even greater customization, functionality, integration and ease of use for customers.

What is also clear is that these companies are no longer pure software development houses. While compliance with Customs law applies to specific parties required to registered and/or licensed for Customs purposes, the terrain on which the software company plays has become vital to enable these licensees or registrants the ‘ability to comply’ within the modern digital environment. This means that Service Providers need to have more than just IT skills, most importantly a better understanding of the laws affecting their customers – the importers, exporters, Customs brokers, freight forwarders, warehouse operators, etc.

Under the new Customs Control Act, for instance, the sheer level of compliance – subject to punitive measures in the fullness of time – will compel Service Providers to have a keen understanding of both the ‘letter of the law’ as well as the ability to translate this into user-friendly solutions that will provide comfort to their customers. Comfort to the extent that Customs registrants and licensees will have confidence that their preferred software solutions not only provide the tools for trading, but also the means for compliance of the law. Then, there is also the matter of scalability of these solutions to keep pace with ongoing local, regional and global supply chain demands.

The recent Customs Modernisation Programme realised significant technological advances with associated benefits for both SARS and trade alike. For the customs and shipping industry quantification of these benefits probably lies more in ‘improved convenience’ and ‘speed’ of the customer’s interaction with SARS than cost-savings itself. My next installment on this subject will consider the question of cross-border trade and how modern customs systems can influence and lead to increased regional trade.

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Interfront – Customs know-how and software

Forgive my exuberance and national pride, for one minute. After some years of intense re-organisation and strategization a new dynamic organization is set to spearhead ICT development in the Customs and Border Management industry. Many will know it by its previous name TATIS or TATIScms. The Cape Town based IT outfit is responsible for the intuitive customs software solution which currently operates in Luxembourg Customs. Let it be known that this is one tough space to operate and succeed in.

Africa, in particular, has  suffered the stigma of UN and World Bank ‘freebies’ by way of customs automated solutions – designed and developed by the west, on western philosophy with little concern for the longer term sustainability and development on the African continent. Before the emergence of commercial Windows-based software, African states (and most developing countries for that matter) had little option but to adopt ASYCUDA. The French colonies in the main sought franco-developed SOFIX. Bull Computers were particularly strong in this space and received great support from the French government in their ventures.

Just as the ‘power’ of the west is waning under financial and political turmoil, so developmental states and economies are looking to their own resources and expertise to fulfil their needs and destinies. A similar phenomenon occurred in the border and port control security space during the first decade of the 21st century, where the Chinese have virtually stolen international market share in NII (Cargo scanning) equipment.  Therefore the emergence of InterFront on the Customs ICT scene is both unique and timely. For more details on the new company and its partners, solutions and expertise please visit their website: http://www.interfront.co.za. Also read their corporate and product profile brochure – click here!

This week, Interfront are show-casing their solution and expertise at the WCO‘s 2012 ICT Conference in Tallinn, Estonia. With the international customs and border management relatively young and seeking stability, Interfront have a great opportunity to develop a regional and international footprint. SARS, in particular, looks forward to its new integrated customs solution; setting a new bench mark in global customs processing.