The magazine > Agile development to help transform La Douane

Modernisation of local support tools and expansion of the helpdesk service catalogue: 140 local technicians and 20 user assistants, serving 16,000 customs agents

The Customs transformation project

The General Directorate of Customs and Excise fulfils the State's regalian mission of collecting indirect taxes, combating fraud and protecting the health and safety of citizens.

In 2016, in order to improve the quality of the IT services provided to its agents, Customs is undertaking a project to enhance the tools used to manage the user support chain services.

This project involves enhancing the catalogue of services offered to the 140 local technicians deployed throughout France and to the centralised helpdesk, on behalf of 16,000 end-users. When the local service (level 1) is unable to deal with a user request or incident, it turns to the Customs helpdesk, which has other tools at its disposal for further investigation or to satisfy a request for change. It is these tools that are the focus of software developments by Cloud Temple's Confexion team.

The aim of these changes is to expand the activity of the Customs helpdesk and improve the quality of service provided to users. The aim is to reduce processing times, improve the efficiency of the management chain, and enhance the performance, ergonomics and security of the tools.

What was it like before?

"Historically, the rigidity of our software development services meant that we had to plan the availability of our teams well in advance. It required us to define our needs precisely and firmly in advance, in a context where, ultimately, any new IT service needs to be confronted with reality. The organisation of our changes was complicated, slow and offered little flexibility", confides Nathalie, the IT centre assistant in charge of administering the system and providing user support. "We were bound by the initial specifications, which required us to complete a cycle before adjusting our needs, whereas our projects are subject to frequent adjustments of priorities. We lacked visibility over the planning and execution of the work, and above all, over the times when we were expected by the service provider to make arbitrations or receive new functionalities. These long cycles didn't suit anyone," she continues.

"This was sometimes a source of frustration, but also of additional costs when new needs had to be integrated during the cycle," she concludes.

"In the context of a standard service, the project we carried out would have produced results later. It would not have met Customs' efficiency and productivity requirements. Today, Cloud Temple's Confexion team produces two application deliveries a month. This pace means that we can react quickly to the project, adjusting the requirements according to the customer's reactions. The customer takes charge of the application acceptance process much more effectively, which has been lightened compared with the old organisation," adds Frédéric Leguedois, Director of Cloud Temple's Agile Development Centre.

Setting up Confexion

The project manager at Customs is the Product Owner who is experimenting with the method put in place by Cloud Temple's Confexion agile team and working with them on a daily basis.

"Generally speaking, we agree with the project owner on the requirements, then a rough evaluation is made in terms of cost with the Cloud Temple team. Then the project starts, under my supervision, using the Confexion working method. "He explains. "We define a "user story", i.e. an enhancement request sent to the Confexion team, which takes the need into account, develops the functionality and very quickly "pushes" it into pre-production for us to qualify. If any fine-tuning is required, the adjustment and requalification cycle is very rapid", he continues..

The entire Confexion service is based on a specific comitology between the Customs Product Owner and the Cloud Temple team.

The "dailies" are very short daily contacts (10 to 15 minutes) which help to streamline the design work. Teams sometimes have questions about the expression of requirements, which may not be clear to someone from outside the customer domain. The "Daily" approach allows for continuous and frequent interaction, which helps to improve development.

Demos" are weekly meetings at which the development teams present the changes that have been made. They generally last ½ hour and consist of a concrete and visual presentation of the developments identified during the session.

"It's a sort of 'weekly mock-up' tracking system, enabling us to track changes and feed our thinking. "explains the Customs Product Owner..

The monthly "face-to-face" meeting provides an opportunity to meet the team in person, review its activities and discuss any changes that need to be made to the way the team operates.

"The monthly contact point is an opportunity to meet up and forge links with the Confexion team. It's also the ideal time to deal with all aspects of contractual management and decision-making. In fact, it's the only meeting attended by my superior, the project director", he adds.

Initial results

Two months after the introduction of Confexion, 18 upgrades and 15 qualifications have been completed. The product has been put into production, with the levels of quality and conformity to requirements demanded by Customs for services subject to heavy workloads and tensions.

"I appreciate receiving the evolution of workloads by workstation every 15 days. On a day-to-day basis, Kanban, the tool we use, helps us keep track of the time spent on each user story. I'm also reassured by the fact that workloads are split between two people: when one person is absent, the other takes over, and the project doesn't suffer any slowdowns for external reasons," says the Customs Product Owner..

Finally, in his opinion, who devotes 20% of his time to managing the Confexion team, "what sets Cloud Temple apart from other services on the market is the speed with which feedback is taken into account, the responsiveness, accessibility and availability of the people involved. The reduction in the time between expression of need and delivery of the finished product is a real source of satisfaction for users. We no longer have the rigidity of specifications that are set in stone for 3 months, we have the right to have second thoughts, we can make adjustments to reflect the reality on the ground, and everything is under control, both the timetable and the budget. "

About Customs

Reporting to the Minister for the Economy and Finance, the Directorate General of Customs and Excise (DGDDI) has 3 main missions. Taxation: each year it collects around 13 % of the State's revenue and, like its European counterparts, contributes to financing the Community budget. Combating fraud and major international trafficking. Protecting public health and safety.

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