Customs plays hardball to meet ICS deadline

In just 18 months, Australian Customs Service CIO Murray Harrison appears to have finally brought to heel the beast that is his department's unruly Integrated Cargo System (ICS), with business groups and major developers determined to force through a July 1 2005 deadline despite protestations from freight forwarders and some shippers.

ICS is Custom's new transactional hub that will move all import and export declarations from green screen EDI technology onto a Web-based platform.

The system has taken more than a decade to develop, blown successive budgets to the tune of almost $200 million, nearly sent its department broke and missed its first two legislative deadlines. As part of legislation governing the project, industry is compelled to switch to the new system.

While early iterations of ICS covering export declarations were riddled with bugs, a strict regime of order and discipline appears to have been imposed by Harrison over the current development process.

With the exports part of the system finally going live in October 2004, the final and far more complex import declaration part of the ICS project was widely anticipated to be delayed by at least six months.

However, Harrison has now surprised many by sticking to his guns to ensure the imports system meets its July 20 go-live deadline and is standing firm on the system's integrity.

While Harrison has always stuck to his guns over the July deadline, airlines and shippers who must integrate their supply chain and logistics systems with ICS have routinely remained cynical the project would be completed this year.

However, it now appears transport heavyweights such as Qantas, 1-Stop (a transaction-processing joint venture between P&O and Patricks) and many freight forwarders have been caught napping over integrating their systems for the final version imports update to ICS by assuming the deadline will again slip.

Once a harsh critic of Custom's renowned habit of denying problems and slipping cutover deadlines at the last minute Richard White, managing director of software developer Eagle Datamation International, said from where he sits ICS is now technically capable of making the July cutover deadline. "From a technical point of view, it is doable... people need to stay committed to the deadline," White said.

Retailers and the automotive lobby are also understood to have had enough of ICS development delays, having backed Customs for the last six months and have now set their supply chain systems to fall into line with the ICS imports July deadline.

A member of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who asked his business not be named, said retailers were fed up with "being held to ransom by parts of the transport industry which has grown accustomed to dancing to its own tune."

The ACCI member said if the transport industry players could not organize their IT in time, they should bear the cost rather than the businesses they service.

"If their business gets hurt that's tough luck - [the project] can't go on for another 10 years," the ACCI member said.

The ICS is due to go live on July 20.

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