The Australian Taxation Office has confirmed its Siebel-based case management system hit a significant performance snag in the four days leading up to the Easter long weekend.
An anonymous tip to the Crikey newsletter yesterday claimed the system -- a key part of the ATO's AU$400 million to AU$450 million Change Program -- "crashed spectacularly" last week.
ATO first assistant commissioner of the program, John Ryan, acknowledged the system -- which has been running for almost a year -- had suffered performance issues last week after the application of a maintenance patch on the weekend of Saturday, 31 March, but stated the system did not crash totally.
"Unfortunately last week, we just had an unexpected issue associated with a fix that we'd implemented," Ryan told ZDNet Australia yesterday. "As we understood what those issues were doing, we started to reduce the number of staff who were logging into Siebel and working."
By reducing the number of concurrent active users on the system from an average of 4,000 down to 1,500, the ATO was able to bring its performance back up to acceptable levels. During last week, some areas of the system were taking close to 15 seconds to respond instead of the normal time of one to two seconds.
After pinning down the problem, the ATO applied a remedy over the Easter weekend. Performance of the system was monitored when staff returned to work on Tuesday, with additional staff gradually being brought successfully back onto the system. Performance levels are now back to normal.
The problem did not affect external clients of the ATO, hitting internal employees such as those working in client contact, correspondence actioning and compliance case management areas.
Ryan said he did not believe the impact on the ATO's work had been material. "Currently, not all of our work is actually done within Siebel," he said. "So what we're able to do is look at the work on hand, prioritise the workers -- where it was likely to have an impact -- and to use normal business continuity planning processes."
Just part of a day's work?
Although the Crikey tipster claimed ATO senior management was "fuming at the system's inability to provide even basic client management support," Ryan said the problems were to be expected. "As a senior manager of the ATO, I'm not fuming," he said.
"As an organisation, we're committed to heading in a particular direction. We actually see the potential of the application as far greater and bringing a lot of information together for our staff. Most of us are experienced enough in systems deployments to understand that, while it's frustrating to experience these things while they're happening, it's part and parcel of major systems implementation."
"Generally, I'd just like to reinforce the point that the ATO is more than happy with Siebel, the functionality it provides to us, and the way it's performing ... and I think it will only get better," said Ryan.
"We have in the initial stages had some performance issues, which were very much associated with bedding the system in, and understanding how we had configured it to meet out requirements. But we've been steadily improving that performance."
Ryan said the ATO expected to have similar quirks as it introduced new elements in the Change Program.
"I think during the first 12 months of any system deployment, you experience a range of issues, and you've got to go through your fine tuning," he said.
"What becomes important to us is how we respond, how we manage that with both the community, if they are impacted, and in this instance, none of the community -- no clients of the ATO -- were impacted."
The executive added processes had been put in place to minimise the chances of such a glitch happening again, however he claimed it would have been "very difficult" to have picked up last week's "fairly obscure" glitch through the ATO's normal testing procedures, until the system went live to the ATO's staff.
Despite having extra time to troubleshoot the Siebel problems over the long weekend, Ryan said the same job could have been done on a normal weekend, due to the fact the remedy patch was deployed by around 8:15pm on the Saturday evening.