Award-winning project lets customs officers fight crime not battle admin

Historically, the Australian borders were protected by its physical isolation, but as times and technology has changed, so has threats to its border safety.  The Australian Border Force’s (ABF) air cargo operations group inspects packages mailed to Australia for contraband such as firearms, tobacco and street or performance-enhancing drugs.

Labour-intensive processes

The ABF’s original paper-based inspection process for suspicious packages was labour-intensive, prone to mistakes, and time consuming for both the customs officer and the courier wanting to make delivery. Officers were spending up to 2 hours per day on data entry alone.

Streamlining with data entry on-the-go

SMS developed the eBorderforce solution using Microsoft’s Dynamics customer relationship management (CRM) to integrate two legacy systems, with a secure custom application that officers run on Microsoft Surface tablets, allowing them to enter all the data needed on the go. What originally took 5-10 minutes in the office now takes only 1 minute in the field.

Efficiency for customers

Customs officers no longer have to enter a day’s worth of data into two different systems. Evidence such as photographs are automatically entered into the appropriate file and documenting and time-stamping each step of the inspection ensures the integrity of the evidence if the case goes to court. Items can also be immediately cleared for dispatch, instead of processed in batches at the end of the day. Parcels are receiving clearing up to 24 hours earlier than before.

Facts & Figures

  • Customs officers’ administration reduced by 1-2 hours each day, giving more time for inspections
  • Officers enter data into custom CRM application on a mobile tablet on the go
  • 95% of packages with negative findings are cleared for dispatch up to 24 hours’ sooner

“The impact on the organisation has been significant. It’s enabled our officers to spend far more time inspecting goods and far less time on administration. In fact, officers now have up to two hours extra a day thanks to eBorderForce. What’s more, the streamlined approach means cleared parcels are able to be delivered much faster.”

Anthony Corbitt, Assistant Secretary for Operational Capability,
Department of Immigration and Border Protection

Struggling with efficiency

The Australian Border Force’s (ABF) Air Cargo Operations group’ was struggling to efficiently inspect the increasing flood of packages from overseas for contraband. Each day, officers received 40 A4 print-outs of packages that were automatically flagged as suspicious and visited various courier depots to inspect them. Every step of the process, including x-raying the package, opening it, documenting the contents and their condition and testing suspicious substances, had to be noted on the paper, along with the officer’s initials and a time stamp. At shift’s end, officers entered their findings into two different computer systems, one of which would alert the courier which packages could finally be dispatched.

Faster Processes

With the development of the eBorderforce solution, using an off‑the‑shelf Dynamics 365 and plugging into Skype for Business that was already running in their infrastructure, and using the scalability of Azure, SMS produced a solution in just under seven months. Information is now collected on the fly, entered into the system from a Microsoft Surface tablet with a largely automated document trail. Packages that pass inspection can be released immediately, instead of at the end of the day, and less time entering data means more packages can be inspected.

Better Evidence

Since the app handles everything from assigning x-ray photographs to the appropriate file, times stamping the inspection process and ensuring the testing equipment is serviced and fit for purpose, eBorderforce reduces human errors that may evidence inadmissible in court. In addition, if a particular importer is suspected of smuggling in contraband, their past inspections can be examined for further proof. 

Winning solution

On the strength of this project, SMS was selected as Public Safety and National Security Partner of the Year award at Microsoft International’s 2016 Partner of the Year Awards program.