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January 2007
Executive opinion

Helping customs & tax authorities remain competitive
By Luc Saint-Jeannet, Vice-President,
International Operations Geo 1 and Worldwide Practice for Customs and Tax

Today’s public sector bodies, just like businesses in the private sector, are confronted with new challenges linked to the globalization of exchanges, and fast-changing legal requirements. As a result, the information systems used by customs and tax authorities are coming under pressure for a variety of reasons:

  • They have to absorb changes in legislation as swiftly as possible, whether these are national, regional (European Union, Mercosur1 , NAFTA2 , etc.) or international (WCO3, FATF4 , etc.). In other words, their information systems have to be more flexible to accommodate these regulatory and legislative evolutions as rapidly as possible, without causing any significant disruption to internal and external users.
  • In the wake of 11 September 2001, security issues have assumed extreme proportions, and especially so for Customs and Tax administrations responsible for monitoring flow of freight and finance, and working effectively to protect the public in close collaboration with other national and international bodies. These functions all depend on very powerful information systems to handle and share information, rapidly and securely.
  • With the accelerated globalization of the economy, competitiveness is a very sensitive area for countries hoping to attract investment and offer businesses state-of-the-art services. Customs and Tax authorities have a key role to play in this process, particularly when it comes to the performance of their information systems (the speed of customs clearance procedures, the cost of container clearance, turnaround times for collecting taxes to meet the nation’s cash flow requirements, etc.).
  • In other respects, the services provided by these authorities must be open to users, whether those in transit and commercial operators, citizens and enterprises, or other public sector bodies needing to check information.
  • There is a noticeable trend to bring together all the payments from taxpayers under the auspices of a single body, so as to offer better service (in particular to major taxpayers) and – by offering taxpayers a single account to manage – enhance flexibly and improve debt collection and fraud detection. These developments are pushing tax and customs administrations to bring together databases used to identify who is liable to pay taxes, for tax account management and business intelligence, and to harmonize transaction processing.
  • Finally, the cost element is just as vital as it is in other areas. Budgets are limited, pressure on the operating and development costs of information systems means that applications are being updated on more flexible technical platforms, using open architectures.

Bull: reputation, commitment and specific, even unique, skills

Bull has achieved a good reputation as a supplier in this area over the past fifteen years through its successful support for customs and tax authorities, helping them to develop their information system, implement complex architectures, and deliver integration projects and innovative application solutions.
Today we serve around fifty customs and tax authorities worldwide. We are present, of course, in Europe, where Bull has been a major player in customs modernization projects related to accession to the European Union. Indeed, we supported most of the countries that have joined the EU since May 2004. We also have many customers in South America, northern and central Africa, and the Middle East. Our most recent achievements in the customs field have been in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Lithuania, Morocco and Romania, and in the tax domain, in Bulgaria, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.

Reputation underpinned by our international customs and tax center of excellence

All the Group’s specialized skills are coordinated under a single leadership to strengthen our performance, and support the solutions our subsidiaries provide to their customers. Over and above our historic knowledge in IT infrastructures, this entity brings the skill of its business experts, accumulated leadership experience from so many projects, as well as the solutions developed at our software production sites. Our organization analyses information from the marketplace, validates the investment needed to evolve our range of solutions, and qualifies all partnerships in this area.
Our business model puts the emphasis on functional competence and ‘replicability’. There are two dimensions to this approach:

  • The business consultants who qualify the needs identified for both customs and tax functions, and design and validate the specifications at the same time as fulfilling project management roles
  • A competitive application platform based on a modular architecture. These software suites, of which Bull owns the intellectual property, are e-biscus® for customs, and e-ris® for tax, and are based on FlexStudio®, our J2EE transactional development platform.
    This configurable and customizable solution approach seems to me to be in synch with most of our customers’ expectations, who are increasingly seeking rapidity of implementation for their projects, backed by our modular technologies and our project management methodology. Meanwhile, some customers prefer to benefit from Bull’s experience to develop their own applications; in this case, we provide project managers and developers from our centers of excellence, backed by the commitment to high quality and professionalism to ensure that every project is a success.

Specific, even unique, skills, supporting customs and tax authorities

Bull is one of the rare players to combine skills in both customs and tax, both in terms of business know-how and the range of our software applications. Now, it is clear that an increasing number of interconnections exist between these various bodies; in some countries, they are even integrated within a single organization. So our dual competence and our understanding of their business challenges are a considerable bonus in this changing landscape.
We are also one of the few companies capable of delivering every aspect of customs and tax projects: design, architecture, specification, development, implementation and maintenance, while most of our competitors can only really contribute in one area.

  • Our business consultants help our customers to validate their vision during the early phases of a project by identifying, qualifying and specifying their needs.

  • During the development and implementation phase, it is our ability to commit to timescales and budgets that our customers most appreciate. We strive to meet deadlines with all our experts and our teams all the world over, ensuring flexibility and efficiency for our customers.

  • Finally, during the change support phase, being physically close to our customers is also vital. Our teams generally cooperate with local partners, whether for support, training or change management, or because such projects often affect thousands of users who need to work with people that speak their language and understand their way of work.

By way of conclusion, I would say that customs and tax authorities the world over expect vision, commitment, and excellence from their IT partners. Their projects are vital if their governments are to preserve, or even extend, their competitiveness and attractiveness in a global context. To meet these challenges, and create an efficient environment they can depend on, their information systems must be open, interoperable, reliable and secure, and deliver high levels of performance.

To support them during their project timeframe, Bull, as ‘Architect of an Open World’, is committed to offering them business skills, technological expertise and the ability to build an ecosystem that brings together its own and partners’ teams with those of its customers, for effective skills transfer. In 2007, with new legislation arriving in Europe, in many countries in Central and South America, the Middle East and North Africa, information systems will once again have to be updated. Bull is excellently placed to bring these customers the benefits of best practices, and to help them achieve these major transformations within their systems.

The third World Customs Exhibition organized by the WCO (World Customs Organization) at Veracruz in Mexico from 25-27 April 2007 will be a new opportunity for our experts to demonstrate our know-how and the evolutions of our offer

1 Mercosur: The Southern Common Market (Latin America)
2 NAFTA: North American Free Trade Agreement
3 WCO: World Customs Organization
4 FATF: Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering

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