April 2015 | Commentary | Viewpoint

Taking Steps to Embrace ACE

Tags: Supply Chain Management, Legislation, Public Policy, and Regulations, Logistics

Fany Flores-Pastor is Director, R&D Compliance Systems, Descartes Systems Group,800-419-8495

With other countries transitioning to a single-window-to-government paradigm, all eyes are on the United States as the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) brings a modernized, integrated approach to government. The initiative, which allows shippers to electronically transport import and export data to the government through a single window, can be considered a mature program with well-defined, realistic goals.

Three fundamental concepts have come into play as key lessons for ensuring ACE's effectiveness: better collaboration with stakeholders, a change in rollout methodology, and a revised approach that mixes benefits with program goals.

The call for a more unified system began some time ago, but it took national security concerns to formalize a number of regulations to safeguard trade, including ACE. Because ACE is intrinsically an effort to unify government agencies, participants realized that additional collaboration might foster better results.

Industry participants were drawn into the conversation and truly engaged. After consulting organizations such as the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America, Customs Executive Surety Committee, Customs Electronic Systems Action Committee, and the Trade Support Network, they developed a practical plan. Participants addressed skills gaps, and strengthened the overall governance model to place the program on the right course.

Another take-away from the 15-year, multi-billion-dollar initiative is a shift in program deployment strategy. Key players adopted the Agile Development paradigm, an approach that varies significantly from those historically used to launch ACE components. Instead of one single deployment, smaller and more manageable pieces of functionality are deployed in stages, allowing for predictable, incremental releases following intensive testing. So instead of looking at its overall success, the program gauges the success of individual components.

To effectively maximize adoption, it became apparent that the program's larger objectives would need to be coupled with practical operational advantages. As a result, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and partner agencies mixed benefits into the initiative to reduce manual processes, simplify duty and fee payment and collection, minimize courier fees, improve data quality, and increase cargo release speed. Stakeholders who initially joined early pilot programs have re-engaged, and are realizing process improvements that are crucial to modernizing industry.

Where Are We Now?

ACE is one of the largest regulatory endeavors in recent U.S. trade history. Regulatory changes aren't new to the logistics sector, but ACE is unique due to its scope and number of participants. The program impacts not just CBP, but the way many government agencies work and interact with one another. And procedural changes on this scale impact multiple departments within logistics-oriented businesses.

When faced with a long-term regulatory rollout that includes far-reaching process changes, companies may be tempted to delay deployment. Although some may hesitate to embrace ACE, failing to do so risks high last-minute cost outlay, business disruption, customer service failure, and inability to bill for services rendered.

Market leaders are taking a systematic approach to adopting ACE. They are working to ensure that compliance does not disrupt their business, capitalizing on the potential benefits of the regulation, and taking steps to ensure a smooth transition to this new system ahead of anticipated deadlines.