Dossier: Destination....Data!

A few words about the WCO theme for 2022

By Kunio Mikuriya, WCO Secretary General

Each year, the WCO Secretariat chooses a theme that it deems relevant to the international Customs community and its partners. In 2022, it is inviting Customs administrations to “Scale up Customs Digital Transformation by Embracing a Data Culture and Building a Data Ecosystem”.

“Digital Transformation” is a catch-all term for describing the implementation of new technologies and processes to improve business operations. Data culture, simply put, means an organizational culture that prioritizes data-driven decision-making. It empowers people to ask questions, challenge ideas and rely on concrete insights, not just intuition or instinct, to make decisions. Such a culture must be coupled with a high-performing data ecosystem. The term refers to the programming languages, algorithms, services and general infrastructure an organization uses to identify data sources and to collect, store, transform and analyze data.

Some of the enabling actions without which it will be impossible to achieve the desired transformation are the following:

  • establishing formal data governance to ensure that relevant, accurate and timely data is available, thereby increasing confidence in the data;
  • making use of the standards developed by the WCO and other institutions regarding data format and data exchange;
  • ensuring appropriate management of data to ensure that the right people have access to the right data and that data protection regulations are respected;
  • adopting progressive approaches, such as data analytics, to collect and successfully exploit data to drive decision-making;
  • enhancing staff data literacy, in other words, the ability of staff to interpret and analyze data accurately;
  • making data available to the public and to academia, in order to enhance transparency, stimulate the production of knowledge and enable dialogue with civil society.

WCO Data Strategy

All WCO Members are rich in data, but a large majority of them lack resources and skills to effectively become data-driven organizations and implement the actions mentioned above. To support them, the WCO Secretariat has placed data-related topics on the agendas of several committees and working groups, organized awareness-raising seminars, developed e-learning modules and published a Capacity Building Framework for Data Analytics, as well as issuing practical publications and including many articles on data-related topics in the WCO News.

Moreover, a team of experts has been put in place under a project called BACUDA, which brings together Customs and data scientists with the objective of developing data analytics methodologies, including algorithms in open-source programming languages.

The Secretariat is also continuing to look at ways to collect and share data on Customs administrations with the aim of enhancing the way it delivers capacity building, undertakes data- driven assessments and works with international experts to respond to requests for assistance.

Since September 2021, the Secretariat has been working on developing a strategy aimed at:

  • ensuring coherence among WCO data-related initiatives and building a corporate vision on data;
  • making the WCO a hub for Customs statistics and knowledge of data-related practices, strategies and technologies applied to Customs;
  • delivering evidence-based recommendations as part of technical assistance and capacity building support;
  • reflecting the diversity of Customs data usages and adopting a holistic perspective by looking beyond the traditional field of targeting, to post-clearance audit, resource optimization, anti-corruption, impact evaluation and support for policymaking.
  • preparing the WCO and its Members for open governance, in other words governance that puts into practice the principles of transparency, participation and accountability. Under this concept, data generated by public services are considered as “commons”.

The WCO Data Strategy has been developed around three building blocks, namely data sharing, creating communities of practitioners, and assisting Members with their transition to data-driven organizations. The Strategy document also addresses implementation challenges and highlights the issues to be discussed. An overview of the Strategy content was presented at the December 2021 session of the Policy Commission, where it received positive feedback from Members. A more elaborated draft will be presented at the June 2022 Council sessions for discussion and, I hope, approval.

Dossier contents

Let me now turn to the actual contents of this Dossier. It starts with an article by the Secretariat on the WCO Data Model – the common language for border management-related processes which enable information to flow seamlessly across different IT systems. The article focuses on the latest data requirements and processes which have been included in the Model through collaboration with stakeholders in the maritime, food safety, waste management and postal sectors. In addition, it offers some practical guidance to Customs administrations which are considering adopting the Model and calls on economic operators to use it in their commercial processes also, as it covers some of the data elements found in commercial documents such as the invoice, packing list and bill of lading.

This is followed by an article by the Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) introducing various projects dealing with the collection, analysis and sharing of data. The author also emphasizes that a culture of innovation has emerged within BURS, and that the working environment supports creative thinking and the generation of new or improved products, services and processes.

The third article presents the results of, and lessons learned from, the first International Survey on Customs Administration (ISOCA), which was co-managed by the WCO and the IMF with the aim of collecting quantitative and qualitative data on Customs administrations and enabling comparisons to be made between countries that share common features. A higher number of participants is required for the Survey to provide a global view of the roles played by Customs administrations, and of their practices. I hope more administrations will participate in future editions of the Survey, which will be simplified to strike a better balance between the need for accurate data and the burden of data collection.

In the next article, Dominican Republic Customs introduces the tools it has developed to measure the time required to release goods and support the Government’s Release in 24 Hours (D24H) Programme, whose objective is to turn the Dominican Republic into the logistics epicenter “par excellence” of the Caribbean region.

The following article takes us to Niger, where the Customs Administration recently financed a study into the use of satellite imagery to analyze cross-border trade flows. The article presents the information collected and explains how it will be used to reorganize operational services and provide efficient links within the territory.

The final article in this Dossier sheds light on the need for harmonization in the digitization of trade documents. This article by the ICC introduces the ICC’s Digital Standards Initiative (DSI), a collaborative cross-industry effort to advance the digitization of trade globally through the adoption of a set of standards.

Many other articles published in this edition of the WCO News directly or indirectly touch on data and on the role that information technology plays in making us more efficient. And this is true of all the editions of our magazine. You have heard or read it many times: in today’s world, it’s all about data. Data is strategic, and we all stand to gain by sharing experience and expertise on how best to manage it in a holistic way.