ATLAS to Introduce Paperless Customs Processing in July 2009

The new regulations, set to take effect on July 1, 2009, will apply to the export of goods beyond European Union borders, as well as customs authority approval and clearance processes. All customs processing will then be handled electronically using ATLAS, an automated tariff and local customs processing system. This system will eliminate the time-consuming and error-prone processing of paper forms.

“Most of the companies registered for participant entry – whether international corporate groups or smaller export-oriented enterprises – already have ATLAS on their radar,” explains Klaus Pelz, head of customs and foreign trade legislation at the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce for Munich and Upper Bavaria. “We’re also seeing many other companies that are either planning or already implementing related projects.”

Companies currently switching to exporting with ATLAS will be well prepared for the day of transition, having had plenty of time to test IT processes.

Declaring exports using the Internet

In the new ATLAS system, exporters can opt for participant entry (the process of creating export declarations themselves) using certified software or Internet-based export declarations. Alternatively, companies can outsource their communication to the customs authorities through a clearing center – a central institution for electronic data exchange.

The Internet-based option requires exporting companies to fill out their export declarations online. Each company then uses a standard Web browser to send the data in encrypted form to the Center for Information Processing and Information Technology (ZIVIT), the German federal government’s IT service provider.

A simple, paperless export process

For SAP partner itelligence, the advantages of the ATLAS system lie mainly in the simple and secure communication it facilitates between export companies and the customs authorities. Customs processing is also faster and the export data is more transparent, thanks to the paperless format. In addition, the system enables users to transfer information around the clock.

Companies that want to start using the new customs system must apply at the ATLAS coordination center, which then transmits the following information to the exporter (if the exporter has not yet received it):

  • A customs number
  • A participant ID number (to replace handwritten signatures)
  • Access information for the customs systems

UN/EDIFACT is an international, cross-industry standard format for electronic data. The name stands for United Nations Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce, and Transport.

The main technical requirement for companies that utilize the ATLAS system is to use participant software certified by the customs authorities. This software prepares freight data as required for customs processing, and transfers the information in UN/EDIFACT format by means of electronic data interchange (EDI) X.400 or FTAM.

This is why companies must have communication software that sends and receives data in EDIFACT format and that supports the chosen electronic data interchange.

Data exchange through X.400 or FTAM

Company-specific requirements determine which data transfer method is best suited for communication with customs authorities. With X.400 (Deutsche Telekom’s Telebox / BusinessMail software), the authorities retrieve EDIFACT messages periodically – every two or five minutes, for example. These inquiries can add up to several thousand euros per year.

FTAM, on the other hand, functions on an as-needed basis via an ISDN connection. This makes it more cost-effective, which is why companies that process numerous or particularly urgent exports will likely choose it.

Barcode scanners at borders

Using their communication software, companies report their export data in EDIFACT format to the customs authorities for collection and processing. As soon as the authorities clear an export, the corresponding company receives an electronic notice of approval.

The company also receives a supplementary export document in PDF format, which is affixed with a barcode. The company prints out the document and hands it off to employees who present it to customs authorities at the border. Officials then scan in the barcode, which allows previously approved exports to be stored in the customs system for simple identification.

End-to-end IT support for customs processing

Numerous customs-certified solutions are already available for electronic customs processing. For companies that use SAP ERP, implementing SAP GRC Global Trade Services Companies, in combination with the converter software it.x-atlas from the SAP partner itelligence, is an excellent choice. The it.x-atlas solution is based on SAP NetWeaver Process Integration (SAP NetWeaver PI), the functional and technical successor of SAP NetWeaver Exchange Infrastructure (SAP NetWeaver XI).

Companies can add both solutions seamlessly into their existing SAP landscapes and logistics processes to enable fully integrated and uniform electronics customs processing. This facilitates end-to-end data flows and increases the automation level of a number of workflows. In addition, the solutions manage export-relevant information in a standardized, centralized fashion, making it available in the correct format to all those involved in exporting. This eliminates excessive data retention and costly, time-consuming interface maintenance to third-party systems.

it.x-atlas: Advantages at a glance

The itelligence company developed its converter solution, it.x-atlas, on the basis of SAP NetWeaver PI (previously SAP NetWeaver XI) and the SAP-certified EDI adapter solution it.x-change. It offers the following benefits:

  • Customs certification
  • Does not require configuration and maintenance of additional interfaces
  • Companies that already use SAP ERP and SAP NetWeaver PI (or SAP NetWeaver XI) require no additional hardware.
  • Processes are fully and seamlessly integrated into the SAP landscape, accelerating export processing with customs authorities.

For more information on the solution’s functionality, please turn to Part 2 of “ATLAS system set to introduce paperless customs processing in July 2009.”