CBP's development program paying dividends
- By Mark Rockwell
- Aug 07, 2013
Customs and Border Protection's is getting used to the overflow crowds that show up at its northern Virginia offices for the development meetings that support its Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), which tracks international cargo crossing U.S. borders.
According to one CBP IT director on the project, the agency has to provide Internet access to allow industry representatives to hear the session proceedings once the 50 to 60 chairs at the conference room at CBP's Virginia site are filled.
"We can't physically get everyone into one room" because of the interest in the faster, more timely development process, said Phil Landfried, executive director of the Cargo Security Program Office at CBP's Office of Information Technology.
The meetings' popularity, according to Landfried, and Brenda Smith, executive director of CBP's ACE Business Office, is one of the results of the agency's eight-month-old effort in agile development aimed at taming the torrent of paperwork that accompanies all that freight.
In January, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, whose other massive data processing duties are aimed at keeping track of people crossing the border, re-oriented its commercial trade processing operations for ACE ) from a traditional sequential waterfall design methodology to an agile development process.
CBP is charged with navigating a complex cargo transport environment where thousands of commercial shippers file cargo information and various government agencies responsible for tracking that freight also need access to the information CBP gathers.
The ACE system allows CBP personnel to manage import and export data, as well as its enforcement systems, providing end-to-end visibility of the entire trade cycle. ACE also improves efficiencies by moving away from a transaction-based environment and transitioning to an account-based business model, relieving CBP personnel and other government agencies from administrative tasks.
The agile development process' open meetings, called "scrum sessions," bring commercial and government representatives and officials together to create the fast deliverables, as well as insure CBP officials and customers are on the same page, said Smith The ideas that arise within those meetings are rolled forward in subsequent "sprints" and "increments." A sprint is a two-week development cycle and results in the building of usable, deployable code. An increment is a series of six sprints.
Smith said her agency is looking to October for its first official deployment of software code developed under the agile process. That code, she said, is aimed at making the process of releasing cargo for shipment into the U.S. more efficient.
Overall, Smith and Landfried said the agile development methodology is aimed at producing smaller pieces of functionality more frequently, resulting in a more flexible, user-focused development process. CBP has four teams working concurrently to develop new ACE features: automated entry corrections; partner government agency (PGA) message set; entry summary validations; and automated export system re-engineering.
CBP document imaging process
Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.
Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.
Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.
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