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Pakistan Customs: the Rocky Road to Digitalization Success

TEXT: Collector of Customs (Appeals), Karachi In the past Bill of Entry was a famous document among importers and...
27 Jan, 2022

TEXT: Collector of Customs (Appeals), Karachi In the past Bill of Entry was a famous document among importers and clearing agents for filing of declaration before Customs and getting goods cleared for home consumption and other purposes. It had seven copies and each one of these had to pass through approximately 22 desks and was to be signed and stamped by approximately same number of officials/officers. In 2005 when Pakistan Customs being most dynamic, efficient and vibrant among other government organizations while foreseeing the future boldly embraced the change and started its own re-organization and re-orientation by introducing the computerization and digitalization in customs processes to meet up the challenges of free trade in the modern global village. The Goods Declaration replaced Bill of entry,22 desks and signatories were replaced with digital end to end solution initially by Pakistan Customs Computerized System (PaCCS) and later by Web Based One Customs (WeBoc) operating 24/7 . Heaps of papers in Custom Houses were replaced with neat & clean paper fewer environments with dwell time reduced manifold.

In the above backdrop Pakistan Customs together with global customs fraternity are proudly celebrating the World Customs day 2022 under World Customs Organization theme for the year “Scaling up Customs Digital Transformation by embracing a Data Culture and Building a Data Ecosystem”.

In modern times the importance of data culture needs to viewed seriously and adopted by every organization especially in the government because the most compelling benefit of becoming a data-driven culture is the ability to make fast decisions based on accurate data insights. Data culture is important for growth as it enables organizations to make more robust decisions at a much faster pace. According to early research by Forrester, organizations that analyze data to derive insights to base their decision-making on are almost three times more likely to achieve double-digit growth.

A Data Culture is the collective behaviors and beliefs of people who value, practice, and encourage the use of data to improve decision-making. As a result, data is woven into the operations, mindset, and identity of an organization.

The value of data is that it enables business leaders to make informed decisions that can lead to enhanced business performance, streamlined operations and stronger customer relationships. Data-driven decision making is vital as it enables us to observe data from the actual time, the real time to come up with predictive insights. The advantages of Data-Driven Decision Making includes greater Transparency and Accountability, Continuous Improvement, Tying up Business Decisions to Analytics Insights, Providing Clear Feedback from stake holders for course correction and future development , Enhances Consistency and above all it improves monitoring and reporting thereby increasing efficiency and productivity of the organization.

A data ecosystem refers to a combination of enterprise infrastructure and applications that is utilized to aggregate and analyze information. It enables organizations to better understand their customers and craft superior marketing, pricing and operations strategies.

The term data ecosystem refers to the programming languages, packages, algorithms, cloud-computing services, and general infrastructure an organization uses to collect, store, analyze, and leverage data.

Data collection can be completed through manual or automated processes. Generally isn’t feasible to manually perform large-scale data collection. That’s why data scientists use programming languages to write software designed to automate the data collection process. Thereafter Data Wrangling is carried out which is a set of processes designed to transform raw data into a more usable format. Depending on the quality of the data in question, it may involve merging multiple datasets, identifying and filling gaps in data, deleting unnecessary or incorrect data, and “cleaning” and structuring data for future analysis.

After raw data has been inspected and transformed into a readily usable state, it can be analyzed. This analysis can be diagnostic, descriptive, predictive, or prescriptive. While each of these forms of analysis is unique, they rely on the same processes and tools. Typically, analysis begins with some form of automation, especially when datasets are exceptionally large. Then comes the final stage of storage of large data in a way that it’s both secure and easily accessible. The organizations use data governance procedures for these purposes. Key pieces of the data ecosystem leveraged in this stage include Cloud-based storage solutions- allowing an organization to store data off-site and access it remotely, On-site servers- These give organizations a greater sense of control over how data is stored and used and Other storage media- these include hard drives, USB devices, CD-ROMs, and floppy disks.

In above context achievements of Pakistan Customs are very much encouraging. The journey of digitalization in Pakistan Customs started in earlier form the in the year 1981-83 with Appraiser Guidance System, Batch data entry system and statistical support system followed by on line Transaction Processing System (OLTP) in 1992 and implementation of One Customs Systems in the year 2004. In the year 2005 PaCCS was rolled out and since 2011 WeBOC has been made operation country wide. WeBOC is an online end to end solution for customs clearances. Its salient features include trade facilitation and to improve the “doing business” ranking of Pakistan, reduction in Customs clearance time and port dwell time, maximization of revenue collection, seamless and transparent information sharing between Customs (WeBOC) and regulatory authorities and all this has been made possible to handle enormous trade volumes by the use of risk management techniques according to international best practices. Presently WeBOC coverage is extended round the clock to 54 locations countrywide including all sea ports, 9 airports, 11 inland customs stations and 8 border points. WeBOC deals with 98% of import and export clearances. The most striking and important features about WeBOC are that it is an indigenously-developed system, paperless system, encompasses all types of customs business processes and covers all modes of cargo shipment: sea, air and land. Millions of import/export transactions have been so for processed under this indigenous system.The greatest feature of the system is that it has online real time basis connectivity with both internal and external users.The remote internal users include IRIS, FBR Customs budget wing, Directorate of I & I, Directorate of Customs Valuation, Directorate General of Post Clearance Audit and FBR`s Risk Management Unit in addition to other stake holders like traders, terminal operators, freight forwarders, banks, clearing agents etc. The remote external users of the system include Anti Narcotic Force, Port Control Unit, National Bank of Pakistan, State Bank of Pakistan, Engineering Development Board, External Labs, Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP), Ministry of climate, Ministry of trade and industries Afghanistan, Afghan Customs, Ministry of Live Stocks, Ministry of Plant Protection and Ministry of Foreign Affairs etc. There are more than 40 modules through which this system is providing services to its stake holders. This online system is been made possible only because of relentless and dedicated work by the Directorate General of Risk Management with continuous support from the Directorate General of Reforms and Automation which is performing a pivotal role in transforming Customs operations from manual to fully digital one to meet global challenges.

Dr Muhammad Nadeem Memon

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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