Labour warns of tech disaster facing Customs

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 05:00 24/03/2014

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A Novopay-sized technology disaster is unfolding at Customs, Labour foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer says.

Customs' largest information technology project, the Joint Border Manager (JBMS) computer system, had gone "off the rails", Mr Shearer said.

The software system is designed to process the $100 billion-worth of imports and exports that cross the border each year, and was intended to be delivered in two stages, each costing about $76 million.

A key goal is a "trade single window" that would let importers and exporters enter all the information they needed to submit to border control agencies for each consignment just once, electronically.

But Mr Shearer said the first tranche of the system, which went live four months late in August and was built by IBM, provided fewer features than expected. That was despite a $14m cost overrun, disclosed by Customs last year. The total budget, including running costs, for the first tranche of the system through to 2021 is $204m.

"Tranche one of this funding has not delivered what this Government was promised it would by IBM," Mr Shearer said in Parliament. "There is a major scrap now going on between Customs and IBM, and IBM is not delivering what it said it would do on the dates it said it would do it."

The upshot was that Customs faced extra costs having to retain its 15-year-old Cusmod computer system indefinitely. Customs was "out of its depth" and the issues were on the scale of Novopay, he said.

IBM declined to comment, saying it respected the confidentiality of its clients, but Customs denied it was in dispute with the company.

A Customs spokeswoman said both tranches of JBMS were originally due to be completed by the end of this year, but it was now a "multi-year programme of work" with "no single finish date".

"Consideration of a business case for tranche 2 is on hold until tranche 1 is delivered and consolidated," she said.

The 2012 monitoring report, published by the State Services Commission, Treasury and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, expressed concern that scoping work on JBMS' risk and intelligence tools, designed to help assess biosecurity and other threats, had not been completed.

Customs said it had successfully processed about 265,000 transactions through JBMS to date with "the principal functionality" of the trade single window working well.

Willie van Heusden, president of the Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Association, said the use of JBMS had not yet extended beyond a small group of importers and exporters. But the association would prefer it was fully tested before it was "fully released". JBMS was "nowhere near" being like Novopay, and the association had full faith in Customs, which had been "deliberately cautious", he said.

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- The Dominion Post

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