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ATO heavyweights zero in on tech as mixed bag report released


ATO executives are promising major process and infrastructure improvements for tax and BAS agents, as a report from the Australian National Audit Office finds flaws in how outage tolerances are measured.

By Katarina Taurian 13 minute read

The tax office got a mixed assessment from the ANAO, which published its performance audit of the ATO’s response to its major December 2016 digital outages yesterday.

Although the ATO has made progress in implementing the recommendations of its June 2017 systems report, the ANAO found “considerable work” is still required to implement the remainder and achieve the intended outcomes.

Further, the ANAO found the tax office doesn’t have “clear service commitments” relating to the availability of ICT systems, which affects how the impact of outages is monitored and assessed.


“There are no explicit measures for ICT service availability and existing service commitments have only broad application — through survey questions about ease of accessing services and information, and doing business with the ATO, and measures of timeliness in processing lodgements. Accordingly, the ATO has not broadly monitored the impact of ICT service outages on satisfaction with its services,” the ANAO said.

There are also inadequacies in the way outage tolerances are measured, resulting in inaccurate reporting for the current financial year.

“Outage tolerances are included as service measures in service level agreements for the major ICT service contracts, and equate to high availability of services and systems. Tolerances have been internally reported as largely met in recent years, although the recent system failures have been excluded, which means performance has been overstated for 2016–17,” the ANAO said.

“With the major ICT service contracts scheduled to be renegotiated in 2018, the ATO has an opportunity to align service measures across its ICT contracts and also align service standards with the outage tolerances in its ICT service contracts,” the ANAO said.

While the ATO has examined its ICT infrastructure for gaps and updated its IT Program of Work, it’s unclear when fixes will be delivered.

“Reviews have identified that further work is required to improve system design and deliver corporate objectives. At the time of audit fieldwork, there were no target dates or milestones for completing this work or implementing the two recommendations in this theme,” the ANAO said.

Importantly for tax agents and BAS agents, who rely on downtime updates to structure workflow, the ATO has updated its communication strategy with a greater focus on providing helpful information to stakeholders.

However, the ANAO found there’s still work to be done with this item.

“The ATO has updated its communication strategy with a greater focus on providing relevant and useful information to internal and external stakeholders, using multiple channels, during system failures and unscheduled outages,” the ANAO said.

“The ATO has examined options to clearly communicate information about the application of general waivers and discretions in particular circumstances but has not resolved an approach — this recommendation is being implemented, and the other recommendation from this theme has been implemented,” the ANAO said.

Chief information officer at the ATO, Ramez Katf, assured accountants that significant work is underway to stabilise digital systems. Commissioner Chris Jordan has similarly and publicly made this commitment to tax and BAS agents.

Specifically, the tax office said it has a dedicated program of work to address resilience, performance and stability.

"In 2017 we implemented a number of changes to improve the experience for tax professionals, the superannuation industry and individual taxpayers who do business with us,” Mr Katf said.

“These included migrating myTax to be hosted on a cloud platform and creating a second cloud-based Standard Business Reporting (SBR) channel for the superannuation industry and tax agents.

The ANAO similarly found the ATO has implemented several initiatives to build system resilience, including accelerating the use of cloud computing services and in-house oversight on infrastructure architecture.

Further, activities are underway to implement active monitoring systems and centralised logging of transactional events across the infrastructure network.

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Katarina Taurian


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