Survey respondents see the centralization of customs management as the key effect of digitization (61 percent)., followed by centralized archiving (49 percent), and improved IT communication with customs authorities (43 percent). Respondents attribute particular urgency to digitization projects in the areas of “Export customs management”, “Export controls”, and “Origin and preferences”.
Digitization to lessen the impact of shortage of skilled labor
A majority of respondents expect lower personnel expenses in customs management to be a result of digitization. Some 73 percent of survey respondents expect personnel costs to decline by more than 10 percent. But only 7 percent of companies actually plan to cut personnel in their customs departments in the coming three years. The reason for this low figure is the shortage of qualified personnel.
“The aim is more to handle the workload with the existing personnel rather than actually downsize. A company’s performance is only scalable with a digital strategy. If customs processes are not digitized, the customs department will become a critical bottleneck,” explains Dr. Ulrich Lison, member of the Executive Board at AEB and the study’s other co-author.
Optimism prevails, but companies lament many obstacles
Digitization projects in customs management frequently encounter obstacles. Some 36 percent of respondents deplore their company’s lack of expertise in digitization, 35 percent a lack of support from management, and 33 percent a lack of resources. Despite all this, optimism prevails: Some 7 percent of respondents consider their companies very well prepared for the future challenges of digitization, with another 62 percent feeling fairly well prepared.
Progress in digitization as calculated in the study is much less positive. Only some 10 percent of companies fall into the category of digitization experts. Another 33 percent ranked as advanced. Nearly 36 percent have at least gained initial experience (“beginners”), but 21 percent are mere observers until now.
Still too few IT interfaces for data exchange with customs service providers
“Companies should get started quickly and easily to gain experience. They should initially focus on simple, small projects that deliver a quick return – such as automating export management or creating a dashboard of global trade data,” advises Dr. Ulrich Lison.
One of these projects could be better IT integration of customs service providers. Nearly 27 percent of companies rely on customs service providers primarily or completely for their customs operations. Some 63 percent of these companies communicate with their customs providers mostly by email or phone, and only 26 percent have an IT interface for structured data exchange.
“Integrated communications between IT systems is a basic prerequisite. Otherwise, outsourcing only creates more work as a result of redundant actions and potential communication errors that ultimately result in higher total costs of ownership,” Dr. Dirk Hartel warns.