To ensure that better informed and smarter decisions are taken, some Customs administrations have already embarked on big data initiatives, leveraging the power of analytics, ensuring the quality of data (regarding cargos, shipments and conveyances), and widening the scope of data they could use for analytical purposes.

Customs administrations will face multiple challenges as they try to keep apace with developments in data analysis. Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), for example, has been reviewing its internal environment to maximize the benefit of the use of available data. The Administration considers that leveraging big data will require addressing challenges associated with workforce development, data management and system infrastructure. As for workforce development, it contends that unlocking potential for big data usage will require strategically developing their workforce by identifying high potential data analysts that can be hired early in their career and grow professionally inside the organization.

The Administration also recognizes the importance of enhancing efficiency in data management, while considering developing a centralized and specialized function within the organization to coordinate and facilitate the acquisition of data and systems. In order to enhance its analytical capacity, the Administration also finds it necessary to carry out further integration of datasets across the different sections within the organization.

Big data contains clusters of raw data that are disordered and untidy. More technically, it relies on a broad mix of both structured and unstructured data formats. This represents a stark change for Customs administrations usually accustomed to structured data; that is, data from electronic declarations for example are well defined by the WCO Data Model.

The ‘standards’ defining big data would be much more varied, and largely outside of government’s control. It is clear that any intentions to exploit the potential of big data will require Customs, on the one hand, to have a strong mastery of its own structured data management and, on the other hand, to advance into other areas to exploit new data as well.

All goods moving across borders fall under the control of Customs. The advantage of applying big data can be well demonstrated by focusing on the Internet of Things (IoT) that may be considered a key enabler for Customs to capture the location, condition and status of traded goods in real time.

This is illustrated with advanced sensor technology that allows logistics service providers to detect any irregularities occurring in or around the cargos in transit, thus helping to enhance supply chain security. As such, a containerized cargo being once regarded as ‘low-risk’ or ‘risk-free’ can maintain the same condition until it is delivered at the destination unless any suspicious intervention is detected during the time of transport.

Customs administrations are not necessarily supposed to ‘watch’ the current movements of cargoes/shipments on their part (to make sure there is no accident) but rather expected to strengthen the cooperative relationship with certain stakeholders (shippers, carriers, forwarders etc.) that have employed the IoT applications, with a view to promptly obtaining any information that corresponds to certain risk factors.

In other words, Customs administrations would be able to concentrate on their analytical tasks, while having commercial operators function as ‘caretakers’. It seems a possible way forward that certain roles and responsibilities are shared between Customs administrations and private sector entities. Keeping track of the state of consignments over time will positively affect Customs’ ‘selectivity’ criteria, resulting in expedited clearance of imports, as well as benefiting all stakeholders.

At the same time, Customs will be able to react to the incidences of any irregularity in a timely manner, while preventing them from leading to serious offences being committed within the territory.

Big data requires certain capabilities including tools for analytics, in addition to an infrastructure with relevant technologies and it has implications for security and intelligence.

New Zealand Customs considers that analytics is critical to realizing the Administration’s vision for the next few years, which is aimed at intelligence-led decision-making and operations, possibly changing how their tasks are performed.

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