Tax Office rejects skills shortage claims

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is set to embark on one of Australia's largest document management projects and is confident IT skills shortages will have no affect on the rollout.

Despite media reports over the past week claiming IT skills shortages are stalling the ATO's software projects, Graham Bailey, the Tax Office's assistant commissioner for the corporate infrastructure branch, said the ATO's use of in-house skills -with some assistance from IBM Global Services - has no impact on information management projects.

Bailey is keen to give document management and record keeping a high profile within the ATO.

"I can't see any major stumbling blocks, we have the funds for potential infrastructure and additional external assistance," he said.

When asked about speculation that the ATO's much-publicized change program will run over time and budget due to a skills shortage, Bailey declined to comment specifically, saying that relates to external services while his area deals with the inner workings of the organization.

Although reluctant to release the project's budget, Bailey said it is a "funded ATO project" that will enable delivery within the timeframe with "sufficient funds".

One method the office will employ to help ensure that its document management system doesn't go over budget is to limit in-house modifications to software packages.

"We're trying to go with as vanilla a solution as we can," Bailey said. "It's easier to modify business processes than to customize software. Custom software can result in high maintenance costs. For example, our SAP application is now pretty much a vanilla install. There is a drive for commercial and off-the-shelf software."

With the tender process completed, IBM's content, record, and document management software will be used as the basis for the project. According to Bailey, IBM believes this is close to the world's largest implementation of its product set.

"It's the largest project I've been involved with in terms of delivery and impact, and I've been at the ATO for 12 years and in IT for 30 years," he said.

In formulating its approach to the project, which is set to start early next year, the ATO is applying recommendations from a National Audit Office report which surveyed seven large commonwealth organizations on record keeping.

"It is a guide for us to follow so we are trying to. It's still early days but we now have more of a focus on it," he said. "We also have corporate management practice statements around record keeping so people within the ATO know what their record keeping responsibilities are."

Bailey described the timeframe for the project as "interesting".

"Although we need to do a risk assessment and prioritization we anticipate two to three years on the enterprise side for the project," he said.

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