The Electronic Business System (eBS) is a one-stop service of the Marine Department of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) that addresses obstacles in port formalities by simplifying and expediting port services related to submitting and processing applications and payments for shipping permits and related certificates without extra charge to shipping agents and companies.
Background and Problem
The port and maritime sector of Hong Kong SAR, which constitutes 20.4% of total employment, a fifth of the SAR’s GDP, and more than 90% of all imported goods, is a valuable domain in the trade and logistics industry of the region. In the past decades, the sector has risen to be one of the leading commercial hubs in the Asia-Pacific region.
With the rise of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the public and private spheres of Hong Kong society, ICT has also quickly permeated the fibers of the country’s trading industry. In particular, it gained prominence in the policy and systems development of the country’s trade environment. The Marine Department (MD) of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government (HKSARG), as part of its efforts to sustain its status as a world-class port and maritime center, recognizes the need to adopt an ICT structure that will enhance management of its shipping operations. This system is called the Electronic Business System or eBS.
Solution and Impact
eBS is a one-stop lodgement service that caters to direct clients of the Maritime Department and Immigration Department who avail of shipping services. The service accommodates electronic features such as online submission of applications, auto-approval for online applications, self-printing of permits and certificates, online payment via auto-pay, and online checking of application status. eBS corrects the deficiencies associated with a paper-based system.
By eliminating errors and redundancy in data inputs, eBS guarantees the cutting-down of clerical and time costs associated with re-entering data. This contributes to the systematization of permit and certificate processing of freights, and leads to enhancement of integrity and efficiency of Hong Kong ports’ information system. The digitization of shipping data makes it possible to smoothly implement horizontal and vertical coordination of information related to freight transport, thereby ensuring timely and quality delivery of goods and reducing shipping costs to the clients’ satisfaction.
The HKSARG-MD launched the eBS in December 2003 as a measure to maintain Hong Kong’s position as a premier-class port and international maritime hub. In April 2008, the agency launched eBS Phase 2 (eBS2) with additional features to simplify and speed up the submission and processing of port formalities anytime, anywhere, without incurring additional shipping clients. At this point, eBS finally included formalities required by the Department of Health and Department of Immigration with the intention to accommodate a one-stop solution for the business and operations of the shipping sector. Shortly thereafter, the HKSARG-MD upgraded the “Pre-Arrival Clearance” (PAC) feature of eBS2 to provide an alternative mode in applying for PAC by inputting data by batch and uploading the Particulars of Crew through Microsoft Excel.
The eForm filler for PAC is maintained in the eBS platform and has undergone several modifications to speed up loading and improve its detail requirements. In 2009, several additions were integrated into the system such as (1) Ship Registration Status Inquiry; (2) Crew Agreement and Crew Change e-Submission Service; and (3) Transaction Enquiry. In addition to these, there were also updates and enhancements made on some existing features like “Nationality Code Reference Table” and “Dangerous Goods Manifest.” Fast forward to 2011 and 2012, eBS inserted new features for various applications such as application for various types of “Dangerous Goods Permits” and application for “Port Facilities and Light Dues Incentive Scheme.” Then in 2014, it introduced e-Payment options for transactions on “Request for Transcript of Register” and “Application for issue of Seafarer License,” as well as a “Change Payment” option to change the payment method of an unsettled payment. eBS expanded its service options specific to local vessels when it launched the online function for “Renewal of Operating License for Non-Survey Required Local Vessels” in 2016 and its corresponding electronic payment options early in 2018.
Parallel to its recent efforts in converting paper-based shipping transactions into online services, eBS strives to keep up with the latest technology by continuously improving the design of its existing electronic forms. Adopting the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA requirements to the maximum extent possible, the new e-form designs offer optimal viewing and interaction experience to web users by simplifying reading and navigation without too much effort in resizing, panning, and scrolling across a wide range of devices.