[LINK] Customs comes clean
brd at iimetro.com.au
Wed Nov 23 09:21:27 EST 2005
Customs comes clean
NOVEMBER 23, 2005
THE Australian Customs Service admits it was warned its $250 million computer
project could not cope with the volume of cargo on the wharves more than a
month before the system crashed.
After weeks of denials from the agency, Customs chief information officer
Murray Harrison also admitted yesterday that system design flaws caused chaos
on the wharves.
The admission puts pressure on Customs Minister Chris Ellison, with Labor
calling for his resignation.
Customs has in the past blamed users for delays when the system for processing
declarations for imports failed.
But Mr Harrison yesterday told The Australian that Customs brokers trying to
communicate with officers on the ground "didn't get a response" - so they
switched en masse to a web-based system, which could not cope with the influx.
"More people needed to use the Customs interactive web-based approach than had
been predicted and consequently the response times were not up to scratch
initially," he said.
"The pressure on the web-based system was only a few days. It's the sort of
thing you could only discover on experience."
Customs brokers were left stranded when the system - a computer package that
processes Customs declarations for imports - crashed on October 12.
Only following the disaster did Customs boost the system's capacity.
In a further development which could leave the agency vulnerable to claims for
compensation from Customs brokers, Mr Harrison conceded the agency was warned
of a major capacity problem in a report before the system was launched.
As revealed in The Australian yesterday, an August "mainframe capacity review"
report to Customs officials warned there was "a major capacity problem
Mr Harrison yesterday downplayed the warning, saying the study was a "70-page
highly technical report which has a line about capacity".
He said all recommendations in the report were carried out before the due date
but admitted Customs did not give the system more power.
"You've got a house that's potentially full, you can choose to add more rooms
to the house or you can clean it up," Mr Harrison said. "We thought that
(approach) was sufficient."
Some importers are still using paper to lodge their declarations with Customs
six weeks after the launch of the system.
Mr Harrison also admitted the third party company used by the agency was
worried at a meeting before the project launch that the software would not be
Labor's Justice and Customs spokesman, Joe Ludwig, said Senator Ellison should
have known about the progress of the project.
"This should have been delivered as a turn-key system, fully tested and ready
to go. Instead the minister delivered a semi-operational lemon at a cost of
$250 million. An inquiry into this whole debacle should be held."
Senator Ellison yesterday said he was told the system was ready for its October
"The advice I always had from Customs was that it was ready to switch over to
the new system in October," he said.
It is important to admit your mistakes, and to do so before you are charged
with them. Many clients are surrounded by buckpassers who make a fine art of
blaming the agency for their own failures. I seize the earliest opportunity to
assume the blame.
-- David Ogilvy
brd at iimetro.com.au
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