Photo: UNICC/Venkateswaran

IPPC ePhyto Hub Pilot Gets Going

UNICC delivers end-to-end ePhyto web application for the International Plant Protection Convention.

Collaborative solution for an end-to-end ePhyto web application

​Photo above: The IPPC-UNICC collaborative effort includes, left to right: Nico Horn (Past Chair), Walter Alessandrini, Shane Sela (IPPC Secretariat), Maoyu Chen, Venkat Venkateswaran, Christian Dellis, Josiah Syanda, Peter Neimanis (Chair) and Shashank Rai. Missing: Kyu-Ock Yim, Craig Fedchock, and Mostafa Abdelaziz.

The IPPC ePhyto Steering Group (ESG) met with staff of UNICC at their offices at the U.N. Support Base in Valencia, Spain, from 2 to 6 October 2017. The purpose of the meeting was to kick-off the pilot of the IPPC ePhyto hub which is now underway. Pilot countries were requested to register for participation on the hub on Friday 6th October 2017. Although it may take the pilot countries time to finalize preparations to commence exchanges, some test exchanges between three of the pilot countries had been completed in September 2017. The pilot is expected to continue until late January 2018. See new article on FAO website.

This solution, a collaboration between IPPC and UNICC for an end-to-end ePhyto web application, will facilitate trade and assist national plant protection organizations in almost 200 countries once fully implemented by all the IPPC’s contracting parties to communicate with each other more efficiently and effectively and support developing countries in improving their phytosanitary capacities. Phytosanitary certificates are issued for exported or re-exported consignments to provide assurance to the national plant protection organization of the importing country that the plant or plant product meets the specific phytosanitary requirements of the importing country. There are estimates that about 10-15 million certificates are traded annually. A move to exchanging these certificates electronically will expedite consignment clearances, improve efficiencies of country operations and reduce the incidence of fraudulent certificates being used in trade. In particular, the establishment of centralized solution for electronic exchange will allow developing countries to establish and operate an electronic certification system on par with developed countries.

ePhyto (electronic phytosanitary certificate) is the electronic version of a phytosanitary certificate, the official document issued by the National Plant Protection Organization (NPPO) of an exporting country to the plant protection organization of the importing country. The digitisation and online exchange of these certificates will be a huge efficiency boost to the international plant protection community as well as facilitate trade of plants and plant products.

IPPC has embarked on a project to advance the national implementation of electronic phytosanitary certification by simplifying and harmonizing the processes of electronic certificate exchange. To achieve this, they have collaborated with UNICC to develop and operate two technology solutions that fulfil project goals. The solution consists of a centralized hub to facilitate the exchange of certificates and a web-based system for countries without the infrastructure to produce, send and receive ePhytos.

A central server termed ‘the Hub’ will be accessed through the Internet and provide any participating National Plant Protection Organization (NPPO) the ability to exchange ePhyto certificates with another NPPO connected to the Hub. This will remove the need to negotiate point-to-point exchanges between NPPOs. The Generic ePhyto National System (GeNS) will allow developing countries without the technological infrastructure to begin exchanging electronic certificates by providing them with a simple system for the production, sending and receipt of electronic phytosanitary certificates via the Hub. The UNICC project team includes Venkat Venkateswaran, Technical Account Manager, and Shashank Rai, Senior Strategic Technology Specialist, Gianluca Nuzzo, lead software architect and Antonia Rodrigues for project support, working with Shane Sela (IPPC Secretariat) and his terasm at IPPC.

UNICC took these business needs and developed detailed requirements document for the IPPC; covering not only product functionality but advising on an exhaustive set of non-functional and security requirements. During a meeting in La Plata, Argentina, UNICC provided the IPPC’s project team with an update on the proposed detailed requirements for the design of the two systems. Members worked with UNICC to refine the design to ensure that it meets the phytosanitary needs of all countries. The work included defining exactly how the hub will operate in exchanging electronic certificates between NPPOs as well as the detailed certification process workflows.

As part of the Hub development, UNICC is working with the IPPC’s project experts to refine the XML schema (and corresponding web service) that will be used by all participating NPPOs. UNICC is also contributing to the standardization of ePhyto XML schema that composes the digital phytosanitary certificate. This XML schema will be published as part of the IPPC ISPM 12 standard being used by all NPPOs globally.

The design of the hub and the GeNS system were completed late in 2016. UNICC is now reviewing software and hardware for use in the systems with the expectation that that the hub will be ready for piloting in August 2017. Initially UNICC will begin working with a few countries in a test environment to validate the hub functions, then commence with the 10-12 pilot countries to fully confirm that the hub service achieves project objectives. The GeNS development is expected to commence following the establishment of a project and service agreemnent with the IPPC. Building of the GeNS is likely to start in September or October of 2017 with the pilot of GeNS being undertaken in the new year with 2-3 developing countries.

A number of aspects are important in the selection of UNICC as the host of the IPPC ePhyto Solution. These include the fact that UNICC is under the UN umbrella allowing us to interact as sister agencies and that UNICC has a long history of collaboration with the FAO which the IPPC’s parent organization. However, with respect to actual hosting services, UNICC brings to the table a number of benefits including that it has a long history of supporting UN IT initiatives from a number of data, design and service operation perspectives; it has a superior record of security; it has sufficient infrastructure to support the global initiative that we are seeking to establish; it has the capacity for 24/7 operation and support which is critical for a system that is intended to be used by the 182 contracting parties of the Convention. Furthermore, the technical staff of UNICC have demonstrated that are very capable of understanding business operations and thereby design a system that meets the needs of the IPPC contracting parties.