Customs CEO says system will not be switched off

Having survived a two-hour verbal beating from angry industry representatives during crisis talks last night, the Australian Customs Service will keep its besieged Integrated Cargo System (ICS) running rather than revert to its old system.

Customs CEO Lionel Woodward has phoned senior IT executives in the retail and transport industries to advise the ICS system will not be turned off, despite demands from the Customs Brokers and Forwarders Council of Australia.

The decision comes after a week of angry and bitter criticism of the agency over the final cut-over of its $200 million cargo processing system, which has seen electronic transaction messages between customers suffer delays as long as five hours in processing, with other messages sticking in the system for more than a day at a time.

Other problems identified include a security glitch which allowed users to see parts of each other's import documentation, an issue Customs CIO Murray Harrison told Computerworld yesterday has been resolved.

However, industry sources who saw the security glitch in action told Computerworld commercially sensitive information, including pricing for goods, was able to be viewed.

Industry representatives present at yesterday's crisis meeting said revelations of the incident prompted Customs Minister Chris Ellison into chiding his agency in front of industry representatives, with the Minister demanding to be personally and immediately notified of any further security related incidents.

While the ICS has been security assessed under the Defence Signals Directorate I-RAP program, the error which allowed users to see each other's import information is understood to have originated from a hot-fix to the system which has now been rectified.

It is unlikely the Defence Department will remove or revise the system's security status.

One main reason for Custom's hardline approach to grin and bear the ICS' very public teething problems is the position of Australia's two major retail giants Coles and Woolworths, both of which have linked major supply chain overhauls worth billions to the ICS.

While declining to name names, Ellison's office confirmed major retailers had indicated they want to keep the current system running, despite its problems, rather than reverting to the previous Compile system.

Neither of the retailers is commenting on the issue publicly, but one issue which large organizations face is the substantial cost and risks of reverting to the legacy Compile clearance system on infrastructure designed to operate with the ICS.

Meanwhile, statements by NSW Ports Minister Eric Roozendaal that Sydney's Port Botany container facility had less than 48 hours capacity left have been contradicted by multinational stevedore P&O, which has been reported as saying it does not expect to have to away cargo.

P&O is also joint venture partner with Chris Corrigan's Patrick Corporation in 1-Stop, an electronic data interchange and e-commerce systems solutions company which acts as a hub for sea cargo messaging.

For the time being, the way forward for Customs IT seems a little less horrendous than the prospect of the way back.