Products using the Australian Government's Standard Business Reporting (SBR) initiative are starting to appear on the market; however, some companies involved are concerned that the wrong people are using it, and that the government is failing to promote it well enough.
The SBR program, which first commenced in July last year, allows routine forms, such as Business Activity Statements (BAS), to be pre-filled and electronically submitted to government agencies using a business's own accounting system.
The program has a strong focus on businesses, with Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner previously stating that it will save them $800 million annually by simplifying business-to-government reporting.
Glen Hasselman, the director of Free Accounting, which has been creating forms using SBR, said that SBR's ability to finally allow businesses to lodge some of their forms by themselves rather than through an accountant's Electronic Lodgement Service (ELS) software would see it become hugely successful.
"In a way, there's nothing competing with it. There's no other way for a business to lodge their tax return electronically. If they want to lodge it electronically, they've got to see their accountant," he said.
"Whilst accountants can [submit BAS forms] using ELS, the business owners themselves cannot actually do that."
However, Andrew Noble, director of LodgeIT, another SBR-enabled product to be released to market in the coming months, said that the main users of SBR-enabled products would be accountants rather than the businesses the scheme is meant to target. He believed that unless businesses were early adopters or tech savvy, they wouldn't be up for using such products.
GovReports director Tiana Tran also said that although SBR would make it easier for businesses to report to government by allowing them to lodge a large number of forms through a single point of contact, the majority of GovReport's early customers are accountants.
Additionally, GovReports and Noble both thought that accountants and vendors would be asking why they should invest in another platform when they can already use or provide ELS software.
"If you talk about MYOB or Sage, they've got this ELS software already. They don't want to come to SBR, because they'll have to kill their products to come on to the new technology," said GovReports architect Nagaraj Veerachettiar.
Hasselman's opinion was that the major accountants had a lot of customers and a lot of existing products, which would make it more difficult to implement something new.
He said that his products have been targeting businesses, but he hasn't observed any change in the number of people using his products since the introduction of SBR, something he puts down to poor promotion of the initiative.
"The government has not done a lot of marketing on SBR, and that's our challenge. When we go out and talk to people, [they say] 'What's SBR?'," she said.
Businesses' lack of knowledge and ambivalence about the scheme has led Hasselman to also question how effective the limited marketing that the government has carried out has been.
"They are trying to promote it. The ATO sends out brochures to every business with their [business activity statements, but] I'm not sure how effective that is. Telling business owners that they need SBR is one thing, but if you put it in the context of a good marketing campaign, you'd probably fail."
He said that the reason for this is that SBR by itself is an underlying technology, rather than a direct benefit to the business owner, who just wants to lodge forms without caring about the technology behind it.
"When I promote my accounting software, I don't actually use SBR as a promotional tool. It's about lodging the BAS, it's not about how it happens or the technology that's used."