Far from just an IT project, the goods and services tax has the power to transform a business, two consultants warn.
According to Murray Deakin and Tim Mason from KPMG, the GST - and its implementation -- is a business transformation issue.
"GST compliance is not as simple as merely updating your financials," Mason, chairman of consumer markets group at KPMG, said.
"It requires intimate knowledge of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) guidelines and of the total impact of GST on your business," he said.
"It's the business thinking that's the real work. And the IT systems are the enabling tools," Deakin, partner in KPMG Legal said.
"You've got pretty serious marketing things to think about. It's not just a back-office tax thing."
Deakin said retailers have already had new laws to contend with.
On July 9, 1999, the Price Exploitation Law was enacted, prohibiting businesses from charging unreasonably high prices between now and June 30, 2002.
With that in mind, Deakin urged retailers to begin GST projects "right now".
"The price exploitation regime is operational today [but] the only cause for complete panic not to set in is because the GST is not effective until July1 next year," he said.
"Already changes [the wholesale sales tax reduction] are being introduced into the market place. There is already an immediate need for these types of systems to be in place."
Deakin said: "The need will become far more compelling come July 1 next year, but the time to plan and introduce these systems is really now."
Deakin and Mason said small to medium businesses, with 30 to100 stores, perhaps have most to worry about.
"They need all the IT richness and they are just as likely to be kicked to death as the big guys and they've got to compete with the big guys, but they're not big guys. They're caught in no man's land," Mason said.
Mason said the level of awareness about the GST is increasing, but organisations need to devote resources to the project.
"I think some people began to put programs in place before the official vote, but most didn't. Now people, suddenly, have to. They're realising it is inevitable, they've pulled their heads out of sand and they now need to realise it is a [more] significant task than they thought," he said.
Mason said, however, GST compliance is not a business survival issue, unlike Y2K compliance that has the potential to cripple business.
"Certainly noncompliance would quite conceivably damage even the largest organisation substantially from a price exploitation perspective . . . if a major business is found . . . not to be in compliance with ACCC guidelines, clearly that has a major adverse public relations outcome," Mason said.
"People aren't going to trip over on July 1, but it is certainly going to be a public relations issue for them."