Tax taps apps for real time-returns

Enterprises submitting Business Activity Statements (BAS) to the Australian Taxation Office will now be able to lodge returns directly from mainstream accounting applications, with the taxman exposing a new Web service directly to software vendors.

When integrated by developers, the new Web service lets businesses send their BAS data directly from within financials packages to the ATO's processing mainframe, which then assesses the lodgements in real time.

The new facility constitutes a major move forward for the ATO's online tax because it eliminates the double-handling of data between applications and the ATO's outward-facing portals and infrastructure.

While the ATO has given much fanfare to its browser-based eTax portal and electronic commerce interface (ECI), both systems have suffered perennial criticism from users at the mercy of bandwidth or load-balancing capacity - usually on tax deadline.

Essentially a set of XML-based standards and digital certificates, the new service lets end users bypass the ATO's electronic commerce interface directly from commercial financials and bookkeeping software applications.

While SMB financials software developer, Arrow is the first cab off the rank to offer the BAS access via its application, most financial software providers of localized products are expected to follow with the service within the next 12 months.

Robert Ravanello, ATO second commissioner for IT, said the new service represented a significant move forward for the ATO's customer-facing systems because it allowed users to submit BAS statements from an interface they have chosen and are familiar with.

The Web service also allows real-time processing of BAS lodgments, with advice on what was owed or refunds given to customers within seconds or minutes rather than days or weeks.

Arrow product manager Sue Sewell said her company's involvement with the ATO BAS Web service had started after the department put a call out to the vendor community to join a project team to help develop new Web services to facilitate direct BAS lodgment from within accounts packages.

However, while Arrow may have been the first vendor to add ATO Web services to its quiver, both enterprises and enterprise applications vendors are following suit. PricewaterhouseCoopers has confirmed it is developing on the standard for internal use, while Arrow rival Quicken has also requested standard specifications.

Computerworld understands Microsoft Australia will also be engaged in development of the new Web ATO Web service; however; the vendor was unable to specify whether the development was in its .Net, Microsoft Business Services or another area - or what products would be offered or when.

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