ATO change program paves road to Web services

Distributed development ensures new services on track, but income tax delayed

Phase three of the Australian Taxation Office's change program will come to fruition this Easter when the core processing environment to support online services is enabled.

In January, the ATO deployed some architectural components and has another technology deployment later this month.

The original plan was to go live with fringe-benefits tax and income tax over the Easter break but it was deemed too much of a risk to deploy the income tax component until further testing has been performed.

The ATO's acting second commissioner and CIO, Bill Gibson, told Computerworld the decision to hold off income tax was made this week and will not have any bearing on other components scheduled for this year, including superannuation and GST.

"We're well done testing with income tax but we will finalize it later in the year," Gibson said.

"As putting anything new into an existing running environment is always complicated you have to keep everything running smoothly. With release three we had a principle to deploy a foundation to start with, build on it, and then build on it again."

Gibson said delaying income tax is a "good risk management" approach and expects it to be online in Q4 this year.

With its core IT infrastructure built as services some will be exposed as Web services, which gives the ATO a "solid, flexible" platform to work off and allows it to interact with external systems in a way previous architectures could not.

Third parties can then consume components as a Web service making it easier to deal with the tax office.

"With business activity statements we have lodgement of activity statements as a Web service so software can interact with the tax office in the background," Gibson said, adding the change program is not "putting something that is a road block".

The change program basically replaces legacy systems, but will still run on the mainframe, which Gibson is confident there is no compelling reason to replace.

"The new system will run on the mainframe, but I just see them as servers," he said. "Our main systems will be Cobol-based in a CICS environment and at this stage that's where we are at. If there was a compelling reason to move of that then we would consider that. We will have large parts of business processing on mainframe and large part on midrange as well."

The heart of ATO's change program is not about technology change, but a business process re-engineering exercise and the basic driver is more consistency.

Regarding the people who are making it all happen, Gibson said you can never get enough of good people, and the ATO is no different to other organizations.

"By changing slightly the order in which we are deploying the tax products into ICT it allows us to reduce peaks in the resource demand so we can make do with what we have," he said.

The ATO sites in Woollongong, Brisbane and Canberra have a lot of developers and testers that work collaboratively on projects.

"With our development methodologies we can distribute work to those teams," Gibson said. "That has enabled us to stay on top and tap into local capacity to supply."

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