Bespoke Platform Build for Customs Services Specialist

A leading specialist in customs services and consultancy for the import and export trade wanted to digitise customs declarations for a more straightforward, convenient customer experience. Key Element was hired to design and build a bespoke platform from scratch, and then provide ongoing operational support.

Who is the client?

Customs-X specialises in helping import, export and logistics businesses navigate customs requirements in as smooth and efficient a manner as possible. With services covering customs clearance, duty and trade management (including post-Brexit arrangements in the UK), compliance and training, the firm’s team of dedicated professionals provide tailored solutions to every client.

Regardless of shipment volumes, types or scale, Customs-X sets out to keep goods moving, rationalise costs, and ensure clients are fully compliant with all relevant authorities.

What services did we provide?

Customs-X approached Key Element with a request to design and build a brand new online customs management platform. The aim was to create a channel that would allow customers to file their import/export declarations digitally for processing. The success of the platform would depend on it providing a smooth end-to-end journey for filing declarations, which meant integrating with external systems, including customs authorities’ and customers’ own export platforms. So as well as developing the platform from scratch, we provided consultancy on getting the system architecture right, and API development for handling the various integrations. Once the platform was built, Customs-X also needed somewhere to host it. We took on this role through our bespoke managed hosting service, and also agreed to provide service desk, application and infrastructure management for a complete operational package.

What was their challenge?

For convenience and ease of use, Customs-X wanted a platform that would provide their customers with a single pane of glass solution, allowing them to file declarations, check on progress and processing status in real time, and provide an overview of all shipments, live and historic.

The company also wanted to provide multiple options for how declarations could be made. As well as giving customers the choice of manually uploading relevant documentation through the platform, they requested a business-to-client EDI feed that would be able to pull in the necessary information from customers’ own systems and automate the declarations process.

Alongside these UX requests, Customs-X requested that the platform include a dedicated management portal where staff could manage and process declarations, including the ability to send documents back to the customer. This portal was also to include a business intelligence dashboard providing real-time status updates on all live declarations, plus performance metrics.

How did we approach it?

Given the number of different stakeholders who would have an interest in the functioning of this platform, we built the project around in-depth and on-going consultation with all relevant parties – Customs-X and their clients, plus HMRC and other customs authorities.

Our development team worked hand-in-hand with the Customs-X team to gain an in-depth understanding of their existing manual processes so we could effectively design the transition to digital while addressing the challenges and opportunities they faced in moving to a new system.

We also ran a pilot of the platform in collaboration with a select group of customers. The findings and feedback we got from this were invaluable in helping us to further develop and refine the platform ahead of full launch, as well as informing our ongoing support plan.

Were there any obstacles?

This project took place against the backdrop of Brexit, which complicated matters as HMRC was still in the process of finalising various customs arrangements and those in place were subject to change at short notice. This remains an ongoing operational challenge. Creating an EDI (electronic data exchange) that would allow the platform to connect to multiple external systems was not straightforward as these systems invariably had different requirements. Our solution was to identify the commonalities so a shared interface could be built and then be customised on a client-by-client basis. Finally, because of the sensitive nature of much of the data being shared with and processed through the platform, it was imperative that the platform was built on a secure, encrypted data repository that complied with audit and traceability requirements.

How did we go above and beyond?

As we strive to do on every project, we went out of our way to understand the client’s business, delving deep into customs processes and regulations so we could deliver a solution that returned the maximum possible value to Customs-X. By adopting an agile development approach, we were able to build and release a minimum viable product quickly, giving Customs-X a working tool in a matter of weeks. This meant the company could get off the ground by using it to attract new business within a very short space of time.

What was the end result?

As a result, no sooner had the pilot and trial phase been successfully completed, Customs-X secured a major contract with a €4 billion turnover client just four weeks after launch.

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