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Cargo Management Re-Engineering (CRM)

An overview of the Integrated Cargo System

This was an ambitious project initiated in the year 2000 by the Customs in conjunction with the government. Now it is called cargo management re-engineering (CRM). The Integrated Cargo System (ICS) is part of the CRM. By 2004, the export functionality was successfully integrated whereas the import functionality was integrated in 2005. However, this resulted into some disruptions. The CRM started to redefine the implementation especially so as concerns border protection. Generally, the issues that arose included:

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  • Data integrity issues that caused system malfunctions.
  • Other stakeholders’ applications were not integral and therefore generated erroneous information.
  • Due to the unreliability of the third party software that Customs clients were using, some of them later attempted to switch to ICS directly resulting in system overload.
  • The help desk was overwhelmed by calls from the industry that most often went unanswered.

Business case and justification

Customs were the sole initiators of the project carrying out an outsourcing exercise that located a number of developers who would later be engaged in the project. Customs never made any consultations with the industry or community and government. The fact that Customs carried out the project unilaterally indicates that there was influence. As far as we can possibly understand, Customs were able to see the need to have cargo management re-engineering of which ICS was a part. Though the ICS seemed to work properly with the air cargo industry, it failed to integrate well with the sea cargo and as a result, discrepancies and bottlenecks became evident at this point of system integration.

Customs seemed to portray compliance in this project choosing to proceed with the project unilaterally though the project would later affect the other stakeholders. While looking at this case it is likely that the compliance here was on an organizational level. One of the obvious reasons of the disruption of the ICS was limited consultations with other stakeholders. It would have been of great benefit if Customs consulted with the government and industry to come up with the integrated cargo system.

The introduction of the CRM process was necessary because:

  • The various stakeholders within the ICS needed to re-engineer the ICS to integrate aspects that had earlier on been overlooked resulting in the system’s overall inefficiency.
  • The cost of the ICS was substantial and thus Customs and other stakeholders in the project would lose a lot of money if the project were altogether abandoned.

CRM/ ICS project mapping on the Iron triangle

For all projects the cost, schedule, and quality are the three most important considerations that will determine the success of a project. For this project, Customs put a lot of emphasis on the schedule or time aspect of the iron triangle thereby overlooking the quality and cost elements of the triangle.

While looking to implementing the system based on their preconceived tight schedule, Customs:

  • Overlooked the complexity and the associated risks of a system of such magnitude.
  • Proceeded to implement portions of the system that seemed to work even when they failed the integration test. It was evident that Customs was not prepared for such risks and was not able to tackle them
  • Carried out very limited consultations with other potential stakeholders in the hope of determining the schedule. This being the case, the whole project was void of a technically coordinated implementation strategy.
  • Did not prepare a business continuity plan that would have opened consultations with other stakeholders on the viability of the project and an appropriate schedule.
  • Hurriedly sourced for the implementers of the project based on a hypothetical period. There was no mechanism to effectively vet these implementers and therefore a lack of standards caused issues to arise during system integration.
  • Was willing to incur more cost to try to push the project to completion while overlooking fundamental operational issues.
  • Overlooked the preparation of detailed business analyses as advised by the consortium after the preparation of the project charter. The three days that were allotted for this task were inadequate and would later adversely affect the quality of the project.
  • Limited or all together avoided stringent testing to the system when limited time was allocated for the overall testing phase. Inadequate timeline was set for testing the system component releases. Ultimately, Customs was not able to derive business simulations that would have enabled them to work on the system’s shortcomings.

It is conclusive from the findings that Customs having set a timeline for the project continued to try to work towards this schedule though the issues that began to appear became a cause of concern leading to a compromise in quality and cost of the project.

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CRM/ ICS project audit

CRM/ ICS project complexity

The CRM/ ICS project was a large project that required thorough consultations among the potential stakeholders to come up with a comprehensive user requirements list. The complexity of the project was because:

  • Each of the likely stakeholders was a complex subsystem on their own. Therefore linking this system to the other stakeholders’ subsystems required defining and understanding a suitable point of integration between these systems.
  • Some of the stakeholders had an international jurisdiction that meant that Customs had to understand how these stakeholders interlink with those systems beyond the Australian borders.
  • These stakeholders were diverse in their processes; Customs would need to define a common point of interaction for all these stakeholders, which made the project complex.

CRM/ ICS project user requirement elicitation and impediments

The complexity of the CRM/ICS project was such that not all the requirements could be acquired upfront. This was because:

  • Each of the stakeholders had to understand their internal processes before determining where they could integrate with the CRM/ICS system. However, such an audit would not be completely possible especially considering that some of the stakeholders were like the department of defence who have reservation for some of their internal processes.
  • The cost and time incurred in order to carry out a comprehensive analysis of the user requirements would be prohibitive.
  • Some of the stakeholders may not have readily had documentary evidence to describe their internal processes.

At the onset of this project Customs was the service provider and the clients were the Australian government agencies like the department of defence, taxation office, department of industry and tourism, the bureau of statistics among others. The proper working of this system was dependent on Customs’ understanding of how they could offer service on a common front to all these stakeholders. This meant that Customs needed to understand the working at each subsystem before providing an integration platform.

CRM/ ICS project management techniques

Project management discipline encourages the use of techniques and tools that can be used to effectively manage large and complex projects.

Customs would have benefited and ensured ICS success by adopting some of the following:

  • Using the prototyping approach to elicit user requirements among the different stakeholders.
  • Carrying out a phased implementation where Customs can create an implementation timetable to include all the stakeholders.
  • Use an iterative approach to analysis and design in order to effectively exhaust the various user requirements by the different stakeholders.

The following diagram shows a recommended process model for the CRM/ICS project.

CRM/ ICS project management techniques

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CRM/ ICS project risks and mitigation strategy

The following table points out some of the possible risks that affected the CRM/ICS project. Also indicated is the likely cause as a trigger and the ranking in terms of the impact towards the project’s success.

Risk Description Trigger Ranking Recommended Mitigation / Response
Single sourcing policy by the Customs board Organizational bureaucracy 5 Avoidance by redefinition of the company’s sourcing policy to a more open and competitive one.
Poor communication channels and irregularly scheduled project progress review meetings. Inadequate project progress status information. 2 Avoidance by constitution of a well defined project team structure with defined roles and responsibilities for the team members. Appropriate scheduling of tasks and establishment of progress review mechanisms and frequency.
Lack of a well-defined project management team and inexperienced project managers. Lack of accountability during the project life cycle. 3 Avoidance by the establishment of a project management team internally or engaging consultancy firm for the same services. Engagement of competent project management based on credentials and experience.
Incomplete user requirements Organizational bureaucracy 1 Assigning adequate time for the user requirements elicitation process.
Unrealistic project schedule. Erratic deliverable timelines that the team never achieved 4 Avoidance by practice of sound project management techniques suitable to project scheduling in order to ensure a realistic project schedule

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