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PEN-CP On-line Platform (POP)

A core element of our project is the PEN-CP Online Platform (POP). The POP platform’s content and features are manyfold, and all aim to achieving PEN-CP’s ambitious goals for boosting Customs innovation activities. POP consists of five main sections, which are briefly described below.

First, Customs user needs and requirements regarding new innovations, across the three main technical areas in PEN-CP (and sometimes beyond), are collected and stored as PEN-CP User Need Ideas (PUNIs). For each PUNI, the Customs expert or experts that supplied a PUNI are asked to describe key parameters of the challenge involved, including:  an overall description of the challenge; how it is linked to PEN-CP technical theme(s); which modes of transport are involved/ affected; and whether other government agencies beyond Customs may share this challenge.

To render the PUNI-concept more concrete, here are eight PUNIs inserted in POP during past years. In total, we have near 70 PUNIs stored in the POP-platform (status January 2023):

  • Comparison of x-ray images with import declarations

  • Help for data interpretation by targeting officers and front-line officers

  • Quick determination of THC content in hemp products

  • Visualization of traces of illicit substances on surfaces

  • Laboratory screening for material stemming from endangered species (CITES)

  • Headspace sampling in cargo containers to detect narcotics (and possibly explosives)

  • Heavy duty axle scales and piezoelectric systems

  • Re-use of the customs equipment (a portal)

 

The second section in the POP arsenal is PEN-CP Security Innovation Monitoring items (PSIMs), a database which tracks a broad variety of customs relevant innovations, solutions, projects and patents (over 450 entries in total, and growing steadily). As one example, the PSIM-section of the POP-platform supports PEN-CP partners in keyword-searches such as “Past research projects & Customs laboratory equipment,” or “Solutions & patents across non-ionizing detection technologies”. There are countless ways to explore and query the PSIM-database, depending on the specific information needs and even creativity of PEN-CP Customs experts.

 

Third, following priorities and requests expressed by PEN-CP partners, a team of 2-4 experts matches up PUNIs and PSIMs. They begin by picking a specific high-priority PUNI, then searching for all possible PSIM matches, including solutions, projects and patents. Afterwards they categorize them as “full” versus “partial” matches and store the PSIM-item links on a dedicated area of the POP-platform. One example of a PUNI with multiple PSIM matches in our database is “Screening and detection of illicit items in the postal supply chain at flow of commerce”, which has eight solutions, two projects and one patent matched against it (matches listed in the table below). This match-making process offers Customs officers to find ideas and examples for potential solutions to high priority challenges, in a fast and effective manner. 

PEN-CP high-priority PUNI: “Screening and detection of illicit items in postal supply chain at flow of commerce”

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A fourth key aspect of the POP-platform is its coverage of more generic information needs of our partners, including the PEN-CP Information Observatory (PIO), which focuses on Customs-relevant news, events, reports, research papers, etc. (over 300 entries total). It also includes data on relevant companies, research institutes etc. (near 450 entries), the PEN-CP Archive for all kinds of project document and files, and a set of event management pages, covering the full life cycles of PEN-CP Annual Events – from event announcements, registrations and agenda updates, to sharing pre-reading materials, individual presentations and post-event handouts.

Fifth, the POP platform provides a home for the three PEN-CP Expert Teams (PETs) and PEN-CP Extended Management Team (PEMAT), with dedicated workspaces for document and workflow management. These team-level sections on the POP platform increase the efficiency and quality of the innovation boosting and project administration work performed by PET and PEMAT teams.

PEN-CP Expert Teams – the three PETs

From Day 1 of our project, three technical Customs themes have played a central role in PEN-CP. As we outlined in our Horizon2020 proposal (written in 2016-17), most of PEN-CP’s innovation-boosting activities occur within a specific technical theme, or some combination of two or three themes. In 2020, we established following three Expert Teams (PETs) to drive key PEN-CP activities, including user need identification and prioritization, and fine tuning; and the proposal of and agreement on innovation instrument usage.  The three PETs are as follows:

  • PET-1 Data and risks (6 active members from 5 different administrations)

  • PET-2 Detection technologies (6 active members from 6 administrations)

  • PET-3 Laboratory equipment (5 active members from 5 administrations)

 

Each PET team is chaired by a veteran technical expert from a PEN-CP Customs partner, with secretarial support from PEN-CP research and administrative partners. Multiple virtual meetings were held in 2020-2021; in 2022, in addition to one round of virtual PET sessions, we also had two physical meetings (Dublin in April, and Maastricht in October).

 

To identify specific objectives and actions, PET team members agree and follow their own agendas. The overall PET process includes the following innovation facilitation and boosting activities:

  • Collecting, iterating, elaborating and fine-tuning Customs User needs and Challenges (PUNIs), in sufficient detail and clarity to enable next-step innovation boosting actions to be triggered.

  • Matchmaking between prioritized PUNIs versus Security Innovation Monitoring items (PSIMs), remaining alert for any existing technologies, solutions and projects which might be of instant use/ benefit for Customs.

  • Regarding high-priority PUNIs with no “instant solutions” on the market: iterating and allocating one or more PEN-CP Innovation Instruments (PINs), to tackle the Customs challenge/ PUNI on hand. This could trigger follow-up actions such as an Expert report, Crowdsourcing ideas, a Challenge competition, or a Technology grant.

  • Identifying Customs needs and priorities for technical or process standardization, and incorporating such topics in the PEN-CP Standardization roadmap (note: actual standards development lies outside the scope of PEN-CP).

  • Preparing and proposing PEN-CP Briefings, which are specific discussion points and messages aimed at a variety of key stakeholders, including DG TAXUD, DG HOME, DG REFORM, CELBET, CLEN, WCO, Horizon Europe program, and parallel Customs-relevant Research and Innovation projects and networks.

Standardization Roadmap

The PEN-CP Standardization roadmap facilitates future standardization activities within the broader Customs domain, including but not limited to the three technical themes of PEN-CP -- Customs Data analytics, Detection technologies, and Laboratory equipment. A handful of PEN-CP Customs experts have begun to target specific areas and topics which could benefit from further standardization, including the objective assessment/ measurement of technical performance levels, and the enhancement of device interoperability and data exchange schemes. The standardization roadmap efforts may also facilitate joint tendering/ procurement activities between multiple Customs administrations in the future. And, in the long run, our standardization roadmap may facilitate bridging the gap between the needs of Customs practitioners and the technologies and services currently available on the markets. As compared with the area of aviation security, for example, “Customs security standards” are essentially non-existent, so PEN-CP can accomplish much valuable work here even on the level of (just) a roadmap.

The Customs Voice

The purpose of the PEN-CP Customs Voice is to influence various policy and business stakeholders and communities, in directions that PEN-CP Customs partners find beneficial. Below are examples of three types of PEN-CP consultations, where either full implementation cycles or at least concrete preparatory steps have already taken place:

-       Routing PEN-CP’s high priority user need ideas (PUNIs) to Horizon Europe and other Customs relevant Research-Development-Innovation funding programs:  a pro-active consultation cycle first introduced in summer 2019 and continued with regular inputs of draft ideas and topics into future Work Programs.

  • Submitting statements and suggestions for Customs-relevant EU policies, roadmaps, directives and the like; for example, PEN-CP has contributed to the EU Critical infrastructure protection - open consultation (spring 2021).

  • Sending common messages to and interacting with specific Customs-relevant industry sectors: preparatory steps have been taken regarding Raman manufacturers, and initial internal discussions are currently taking place regarding seals manufacturers.

PEN-CP plans to continue holding Customs Voice activities periodically in the future, based on topics and opportunities the Customs partners consider import.

Outreach towards Innovator Communities

Proactive outreach towards various research and innovator communities is gaining momentum in PEN-CP work and will remain of central importance for the duration of the project. We aim to increase the awareness in these communities of the concrete challenges and practical constraints of the Customs business, in order to stimulate their future research and development of innovative technologies and solutions for Customs use. During this process, we may also run a few “Crowdsourcing ideas” exercises to collect out-of-the-box ideas from forward-thinking scientists and innovators. Subsequently, we will take multiple steps to achieve our long-term goal of “PEN-CP supporting Customs officers across Europe to form contacts and stay in touch with research, academic and innovator communities.” Examples of concrete activities in our pipeline include the following:

Bringing innovative start-up and scale-up communities closer to the Customs world

Scouting for ideas on innovative technologies and solutions from specific industry sectors

“Customs as an exciting scientific and engineering discipline”

We use the outcomes of Expert Report 1 - Mapping of European start-up/scale-up landscape – as a key contact information database, when informing innovators about upcoming activities (e.g. innovation instrument and event calls). We are also planning a series of “Innovator & PEN-CP Customs breakfast meetings” in a combined physical and virtual setting, hopefully covering most PEN-CP member countries, to discuss innovator research and development roadmaps versus Customs challenges and user needs.

This recent idea from the PEN-CP Management Team looks to systematically approach leading companies in fields like engineering, manufacturing and/or quality control departments, covering sectors such as mining, agriculture, food production, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and aerospace & defense. Our objective is to discover technologies and solutions used in their operations that have potential applications in the Customs sphere. Naturally, no results are guaranteed, but the potential for useful discoveries seems considerable.

Here our objective is to make university professors (in physics, chemistry, data analytics, logistics, security etc.), PhD-candidates and national funding agencies aware of the highly complex scientific and engineering problems that Customs faces, both from daily operation and from strategic perspectives. The goal is to increase dramatically the number of Customs-relevant PhD-theses in Europe, producing valuable results over the next 5-10 years. One PEN-CP product will be a promotional video, with subtitles provided in all 12 PEN-CP Customs languages, highlighting the fascinating scientific and engineering opportunities and potential future solutions inherent in Customs work.

Penday Guests from 2021 onwards


The monthly Penday-events were first introduced in early 2021, to facilitate continuous interaction and dialogue among PEN-CP partners; a timely arrangement also considering the lack of physical meetings due to Covid-19. The afternoons of the second Monday of each month have been dedicated to these 3-hour long online sessions, filled with both internal and external presentations and discussions. By January 2023, some 16 Penday sessions have been organized; and, following the positive feedback by PEN-CP partners, we plan to continue with another 16 sessions during years 2023 and 2024. Examples of guest interventions in Pendays during years 2021-23 include the following:

  • Penday-Sep2023: “Environmentally friendly recycling service on the site where cigarettes are stored and destroyed by Customs authorities”, by Michael Wylde, CEO of Rezero -  https://cigarettewaste.com/  

  • Penday-Sep2023: “The future of combating counterfeit - No parcel goes unchecked”, by Karolina Zhytnikova, Legal Manager (Brand Protection & IP),Countercheck - https://www.countercheck.com/ 

  • Penday-Sep2023: H2020-project ALIGNER: “A research and policy roadmap for AI in support of law enforcement " by Daniel Lückerath, Project Manager, Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems IAIS -  https://aligner-h2020.eu/about/

  • Penday-Sep2023: “How to use traceability to combat illicit tobacco trade”, by Sébastien Spanneut, Head of Global Track & Trace Delivery, Worldline - https://worldline.com/

  • Penday-Jun2023: The winner of the 1st PEN-CP Innovation Prize (PIP-2022/23)* - “Advanced cargo scanner image analysis and threat object recognition training” - by Donatas Limantas, INTA, Lithuania - http://inta.lt/en/ 

  • Penday-Jun2023: The World Resources Institute (WRI) & Open Timber Portal (OTP) - by Sophie Lebaste - https://www.wri.org/initiatives/open-timber-portal 

  • Penday-Jun2023: Live video-streaming by AELER,  the 3rd place participant in the 1st PEN-CP Innovation Prize (PIP-2022/23)* - “Smart containers with real-time track-and-trace and cargo monitoring, and software that identifies normal and atypical cargo behavior” - by co-CEO David Baur - https://www.aeler.com/

  • Penday-Mar2023: Radiation detection & video streaming, by Marco Panniello & colleagues, Arktis Radiation Detectors Ltd, https://www.arktis-detectors.com/  

  • Penday-Mar2023: Update on CELBET activities, by Andras Bartha, Head of CELBET, https://www.celbet.eu/ 

  • Penday-Mar2023: Border management standardization roadmap, by Pertti Woitch, PEN-CP Ethics Advisor, https://www.cencenelec.eu/news-and-events/events/2023/2023-02-17_workshop-border-management-standardisation-roadmap/

  • Penday-Feb2023: “Global Textile Scheme (GTS) and Digital Product Pass – details of a new data exchange standard for textile product data and its potentials for European Customs” – by Andreas R. Schneider, CEO, Global Textile Scheme GmbH, www.globaltextilescheme.org  

  • Penday-Feb2023: “Muon FLUX: a safer, more automatic, and penetrating inspection scanner technology by GScan” - by Andi Hektor, PhD | Chair of the Board | GScan OU, https://gscan.eu/  

  • Penday-Feb2023: “From a Blockathon to a production-grade project on counterfeits”, European Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights, EUIPO - by Nicolas Hauw, Project Lead, www.euipo.europa.eu 

  • Penday-Dec2022: “Horizon Europe Project iFLOWS : Advanced technologies for scanning and detection of illicit material for postal services and express courier flows”, by DI Dr. Thomas Staffenberger, iFLOWS Coordinator, Austria, www.recendt.at

  • Penday-Dec2022: “The future of global trade data”, by Peter Bulters, CEO of CATTS, the Netherlands, Winner of the WCO Hackathon 2022, www.catts.eu

  • Penday-Nov2022: “Muon imaging overview and opportunities for customs”, by Dezso Varga, Head of High Energy Physics Department, Wigner Research Centre for Physics, Hungary, https://wigner.hu

  • Penday-Nov2022: “The solution for the mandatory requirement for complete, accurate and compliant advanced electronic data (AED) in cross-border eCommerce”, by Co-Founder David Spottiswood, Hurricane Commerce, www.hurricanecommerce.com  

  • Penday-Nov2022: “Global Express Association (GEA) Customs Capability Database: Tracking trade facilitation implementation from express delivery industry perspective”, by GEA Customs and Security Advisor Dietmar Jost & Director General of the GEA Carlos Grau Tanner, Switzerland, https://global-express.org/index.php?id=31

  • Penday-Oct2022: “Horizon Europe project MELCHIOR - MECHANICAL IMPEDANCE and MULTIPHYSICS CONCEALED AND HIDDEN OBJECTS INTERROGATION” (started on 1.9.2022, 3 year duration), by Project coordinator Professor José Luis Pérez Díaz, Universidad de Alcalá, Spain, https://cordis.europa.eu/project/id/101073899

  • Penday-Jun2022: Global Customs Innovation Award co-winner UK Border Force (UKBF) & GCIA-2021 submission titled “Designed and embedded carrier connectivity dashboards, to identify carriers importing freight into Great Britain that are not submitting mandated pre-arrival safety and security declarations”, by Chris Hodges and Pardeep Bilkhu, https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/border-force

  • Penday-Jun2022: Global Customs Innovation Award GCIA-2021 co-winner Australian Border Force (ABF) & “Innovation activities at ABF”, by Alison Graham, https://www.abf.gov.au/

  • Penday-May2022: “AELER - Reinventing the container and what goes around it”, by Mark Johnson and Marianna Levtov, Switzerland, https://www.aeler.com/

  • Penday-May2022: “Arktis Radiation Detectors – Overview and use cases”, by Ulisse Gendotti, Switzerland, https://www.arktis-detectors.com/

  • Penday-Mar2022: “Cosmic Ray Tomography for Maritime Safety and Security Applications & Introduction to a related Customs RDI EU project SILENTBORDER”, by Ms. Sarah Barnes, DLR, Germany, https://silentborder.eu/

  • Penday-May2021: “Open Innovation: Potential and Challenges of engaging with the Crowd”, by Professor Kathleen Diener, PEN-CP Advisory Board member, https://www.time.rwth-aachen.de/cms/TIME/Die-Research-Area/Technologie-und-Innovationsmanagement-/TIM-Team/Affiliierte-Professoren/~eeoy/Diener-Kathleen/?lidx=1&allou=1

  • Penday-May2021: “Navigating through year 2021 with VAT reform, ICS2.0 intro, and Brexit”, by Gordon Wright, DHL VP Customs and Regulatory Affairs EU, www.dhl.com 

  • Penday-Apr2021: “Apirasol combines online intelligence with shipments analytics, uncovering the entire illicit supply chain, from producers to importers, distributors and retailers – How could Customs benefit from such solutions & services?”, by Mr. Axel Hein, Apirasol, Germany, https://www.apirasol.com/

  • Penday-Mar2021: “The Platform of Customs Clearance Knowledge for Practitioners – some options in the future for PEN-CP Customs partners” - by Enrika Naujoke, Co-founder and CEO of www.customsclearance.net

  • Penday-Mar2021: “Cargo ship risk scoring, in Customs, Coast guard and Police context”, by Eli Lifshitz, Head of Sales Europe, www.wnwd.com/solutions/

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