Technology for customs in the time of the pandemic

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In November, Microsoft participated in the WCO Tech-Con Summit organized by the World Customs Organization that brought together more than 1100 attendees from 183 Customs administrations across the globe who collectively process approximately 98 percent of world trade.

The conference focused on the global economic crisis caused by the pandemic, where health and safety took precedence over economic development, where lockdowns negatively impacted supply chains, halted trade, and consequently increased unemployment, bankruptcies, and rises in fraud and illicit trade. Key technological challenges and opportunities in times of crisis were other key conference discussion topics.

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While taking a painful toll on health and wellbeing, the pandemic offered organizations the opportunity to pause and reimagine certain portions of customs and trade processes. The resulting reimagining conversations focused on how to create more resilient supply chains, an always-on government that incorporates sustainability, and social inclusion into its design processes and success criteria. All parties understood that transparency and trust are more important than ever as customs organizations do their best to better implement safe and fair trade.

The rising importance of digitalization, e-commerce, and the need to redesign the modern workplace calls for accelerated adoption of technology, combined with an increased emphasis on the digital skilling of workers across the customs and trade ecosystem.

How can technology support recovery plans across different horizons?

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During the Respond to Crisis phase, collaboration is paramount in all scenarios ranging from cross-agency collaboration to public-private consultations, to customs-healthcare or customs-postal cooperation to mitigate medical supply chain gaps, and to ensuring the wellbeing of vulnerable populations in lockdown.

Some of the capabilities and solutions Microsoft and its partners can provide this ecosystem are:

  • Microsoft’s Crisis PowerApps Platform enables rapid, resilient healthcare supply chain management.
  • A touchless data capture and records management system powering a next-generation notebook for customs officers. Partners such as StarStorage are combining the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to process forms with Microsoft Office 365 and Dynamics 365 to ensure compliance and governance while improving efficiency across records management via automated workflows.
  • Ensuring execution of social distancing measures to ensure employees and economic operators’ health and safety. The Interaction Care suite from Beabloo offers tools for measuring interactions between people to improve enforcement of social distancing in crowded spaces.
  • A rapid secure digitization platform delivered by ComUnity that enables port authorities to quickly launch port authority consignee platforms in only a few days.
  • Protecting employees by rapidly implementing a hybrid workplace. Leaders that empower their people with digital technology can more easily transform their organizations’ processes and workplaces into hybrid models that will allow them to recover faster and emerge stronger than competitors. To build an effective hybrid workplace, organizations must focus on three things: leadership, culture, and technology.

To Recover with Efficiency, we must unlock the potential of data and AI. Use cases are countless sharing some particularly poignant capabilities and examples below:

  • Microsoft Azure Custom Vision is an AI service and end-to-end platform that applies computer vision to specific scenarios such as object detection and category classification that improve security by identifying threats such as explosives and radiation.
  • Enhancing the data marketplace and federated identity as made possible by the NxtPort Data Utility Platform. NxtPort’s main goal is to unlock the potential from sharing existing data and improving collaboration among all stakeholders involved in port operations. The NxtPort Data Utility Platform allows for greater speed and agility while also decreasing costs through more efficient transfers of data between different parties. Furthermore, the platform creates more transparency throughout the entire shipping process. NxtPort aims to increase operational efficiency, safety, and revenues, thus enabling you to more quickly develop your capabilities and grow your community.
  • Enable remote work and touchless engagements, so customs authorities can intimately interact meet with citizens and companies through Microsoft Teams’ frictionless virtual meetings. As of October 2020, Microsoft Teams reached 115 million Daily Active Users.
  • Enhanced risk identification and scoring capabilities that enable remote activity-based monitoring, such as dynamic calculation of vessel risk profiles.
  • Azure Machine Learning, as leveraged by partners such as Quantexa to improve entity resolutions required to combat financial and tax fraud crimes.

Rebuilding for the Future should foster a culture of innovation that considers:

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  • Breaking the language barrier with live speech-to-text and machine translation. This capability allows the European Parliament to communicate more closely with their constituents through an AI-based tool that transcribes and translates 24 Languages.
  • Improving product classification and valuation and enabling origin tracking and fraud reduction by pairing AI with blockchain.
  • Enabling secure, real-time data sharing. A particularly effective solution is CADENA: blockchain enabled, this solution allows for the implementation of mutual recognition arrangements and agreements. CADENA was developed thanks to the innovative work of the Mexican, Peruvian, and Costa Rican customs administrations, supported by the IADB and Microsoft. Their end-product illustrates how a transformative technology can dramatically improve customs and border management.
  • Automating processes while reducing the risk in global trade. Microsoft partnered with EY and Guardtime to provide a blockchain platform to make marine insurance more transparent and more efficient. Maersk is among the first enterprise-level organizations to adopt this solution.
  • Meeting sustainability goals through IoT and AI capabilities: monitor volatile organic compounds, early oil spill detection, reduce interruptions through predictive maintenance, reduce noise pollution and improve air quality just as Hamburg did with the support of our partner Breeze Technologies.
  • Expanding border situational awareness capabilities: incorporate criminal history in port inspections; monitor cooperative and non-cooperative drones; container self-monitoring, container sensing and threats detection and alerting, authorized access, content movement in transit and ports, all enabled by intelligent cloud infrastructures. An especially innovative solution is provided by CHRONOS, a pioneer in situational awareness mesh technology using in 3D live movement tracking of objects, idle and mobile, with alert detection.
  • Training for the autonomous vehicles, including ships: Microsoft partnered with JRCS to build the INFINITY Training platform. The solution combines mixed reality and AI to train both seafarers and land-based supervisors.

Earlier this year we saw customers undergo two years’ worth of digital transformation within two months, proving that in times of need, technology can enable our resilient organizations to continue the operations required to allow trade to continue. Unsurprisingly, the countries and organizations that invested in digital transformation saw their economies and operations transition faster and recover faster.

Experimentation with and investment in digital technologies have both play a key role in helping companies navigate successfully through the crisis. Respondents to the McKinsey Global Survey of Executives October 2020, reported that they’ve seen more than 25 percent organic revenue growth in the past three years.

On a final note, we must internalize that resilient digital infrastructures as well as remote work requires resilient, powerful, and, well thought out implementations of security strategies and tools as well as skilling efforts to best unlock efficiency, improve employee motivation, and maintain the work-life balance required to best facilitate the innovation and adaptation required for further progress.

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