A portal with potential
Elevating Dutch ports to the prime smart ports of Europe – this is the ambition of Portbase, an independent organization that digitally connects all players in maritime logistics chains in the Netherlands. Dutch Customs shares this goal and contributes to its realization. Together, both partners developed an Inspection Portal that significantly accelerates the handling of customs inspections at seaside entry. Port logistics companies see that it is in their own interest to join the service.
Portbase is the driving force behind the Port Community System, a platform that allows companies and governments to share data and exchange information at one central location. It must ensure that all actors in Dutch seaports are able to work faster, more efficiently and cheaper – and that the competitive position of those ports becomes stronger. Dalibor Stojakovic (left on the photo) is responsible for the development of new services in the non-profit organization. This autumn, such a service was delivered: the Portbase Inspection Portal. “An electronic window that helps companies involved in freight transport to anticipate planned inbound government inspections”, explains Stojakovic. “A broad working group – consisting of representatives of shipbrokers, terminals and shipping companies – determined, in the preliminary trajectory, what the minimum functionalities are that the application must have. And, of course, Dutch Customs was also asked what user wishes should be given priority. In the autumn of 2016, we started to build the service, in close consultation with all stakeholders.”
Containers, bulk and mixed cargo
In doing this, they didn’t have to start from scratch. For years, Portbase had been the host of a similar service: Customs Scan Process. As the name implies, this regulated the message traffic between the service and the business community about upcoming scan checks of containers (and their handling). “It was clear that we could and wanted to improve and add what was necessary”, says Zlatan Abramovic (on the right in the photo), product owner of the new Inspection Portal at Dutch Customs. “For example, our desire was to also include physical inspections and, alongside the container branch, immediately include the bulk and mixed cargo sectors, as well. After all, all this is under one and the same process: Entry. To our satisfaction, all of these things have ended up in the first version of the Inspection Portal as must-haves. And a firm condition of ours has been met: a high level of safety is required for the service, to prevent abuse.”
“The situation is now as follows”, outlines Stojakovic. “As soon as Customs recognises a risk and selects goods to be inspected, this is reported to the Inspection Portal. It then informs the shipbroker – the person directly concerned with the cargo – and the terminal. In addition, an immediate blockade mechanism is instigated: even before the ship with the shipment in question is docked, the cargo is, as it were, secured in the systems of the terminal. Customs is the only party which is authorized and is able to lift these blockades. An increasing number of terminals now have all kinds of so-called triggers, that determine what follow-up steps are being taken for each type of inspection. For example: where will the goods be stored in the meantime, and how will they subsequently be handled? There are examples of terminals where unloaded containers are put through the scanner within 45 minutes, are then released and can be picked up by the carrier. Our portal contributes to this.”
High on the wish list of Dutch Customs was to include notifications of manual inspections in the portal. Abramovic: “These generate exactly the same messages and notifications to stakeholders as automatically generated inspections. They are also automatically blocked in the planning of the terminal, so that the goods stay where they are and can be inspected on the spot and within a reasonable time. Thus, automation guarantees the integrity of the monitoring process.”
In addition, the service provides a handy reporting feature, which all member organizations can use. Stojakovic: “Customs can, in this way, have an immediate, real time picture of the situation at the various terminals. In turn, the terminals, as well as the participating shipbrokers, can see at a glance how things are going with the inspection of the cargo they are responsible for. If they share that knowledge with their customers – the carrier and the recipient of the goods – entire distribution chains can be planned and steered more efficiently. Also, companies have the opportunity to retrieve historical reviews – such as those from all inspections they’ve had over the past year – for the benefit of, for example, their AEO administration.”
Abramovic also points to the great ease of use of the new application for Customs. “In the portal, all kinds of actions can be performed very easily. For example consider the occurrence of changing unloading locations, which occurs frequently. Previously, our service had to use several screens to transfer containers, one by one, from one terminal to another. Now, that can be done with a few simple mouse clicks. In addition, containers are automatically released at the original terminal of arrival and blocked at the terminal they are moved to.”
A view of the future
The Portbase Inspection Portal has laid a foundation which can be easily built on. “From the outset, we have taken into account the future development of the service”, says Stojakovic. “In the long term, we want to meet more of the needs of the business community. Now the system focuses on the Entry process and on the inspections carried out by Customs – including those in association with other public services. The idea is to subsequently include all the logistics-related government inspections. The IT foundation that is there now, is ready. And, thanks to our agile approach, we can deliver improved and more extensive releases in sprints of just a few weeks.”
“Dutch Customs definitely wants to position itself as a cargo manager”, says Abramovic. “With a provision such as the State Inspectorate Terminal that will be operational this coming year, we are already taking an important step in this direction. From then on, all government inspections of goods in the port of Rotterdam will be carried out in one place, under our supervision. The Portbase Inspection Portal offers us, potentially, the opportunity to also centrally manage our entire range of inspections. We obviously want to take advantage of that opportunity.”
The Portbase Inspection Portal is a true community service: it is developed by and for the Dutch seaports. At this stage, it is intended for basically every company that sends import manifests to Customs via Portbase, regardless of which port it is active in. Such a company can subscribe and then see all relevant information with respect to the inspection of its goods. For terminals, the connection is interesting, because the service will ensure that they cannot, in fact, miss anymore inspections. Thus, their processes are predictable, and they can then automatically offer their clients a higher level of service. Terminals and cargo agents who have to deal with relatively few inspections, can have a basic subscription instead of a fixed subscription. In that case, an amount will be charged per announced inspection.