ATO expects planned maintenance to run according to schedule

The taxation office's track record casts a shadow over the maintenance planned for Australia's three-day weekend.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has announced planned maintenance this weekend for its "key services" including portals and its website, and will be taking them offline from 11:30pm AEDT Thursday.

The ATO expects to have the services up and running by 7am AEDT Monday.

According to an ATO spokesperson, the government agency is taking advantage of the January 26 nationwide public holiday.

"We conduct regular maintenance of our systems to update them and ensure their stability and availability during peak lodgement periods," the spokesperson told ZDNet. "We schedule this work over weekends and public holidays and give affected clients as much notice as possible to minimise any disruption to their business."

See also: ATO called out for not tracking costs in digital transformation program

The spokesperson declined to comment on what exactly is being fixed during the three-day period.

In a tweet Tuesday afternoon, the ATO directed those affected by the outage to its planned maintenance page; however the taxation office will be pulling the information page down while it works on its website.

The ATO conducted maintenance over the four-day Easter weekend in April last year, but its ato.gov.au website was still unavailable two days later.

In response to the outage, the ATO issued an apology via a Twitter reply that did not point to the cause of the website being down.

"We're investigating current issues with our website as a priority," the ATO said at the time. "We apologise for the inconvenience."

The outage followed a run of issues that have been plaguing the taxation office since late 2016, including "one-of-a-kind" SAN outages, and although the ATO said issues were rectified, further service disruptions ensued.

The government department had to turn its mainframe off and switch it back on again last July when a disruption occurred five days into the new financial year.

The department responded with promises of "smooth operating" IT, as well as the assurance of a more "connected and bulletproof" system than ever before.

Facing a House of Representatives Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue in October, ATO CDO John Dardo and Assistant Commissioner of Client Engagement Business Improvement Strategies Andrew Watson said the ATO is focused on making sure its tax agents are happy.

Dardo said the outages impact more than just ATO staff, and that the entire ecosystem including tax agents, software developers, and super funds also suffer, and as a result, the ATO was undertaking an ongoing program of working with tax agents around irritants in the system.

"The office's ability to rally from those outages and recover is beyond what I think most people can imagine," Dardo added. "If you look at the tax time performance this year, it is the best tax time in the history of the ATO.

"People don't realise there's very few places in the IT world that have to deliver at the scale and the speed that we do for tax time. You're talking new code, new IT systems, new products for regulatory or legislative change, releases of new product for the agent community -- all that was done and on top of that, we blew away every stat."

Previously, Dardo said that when the ATO had an outage event or a slight decline in service, nobody noticed.

The ATO turned to AppDynamics in October to monitor its critical applications, including MyTax. The application performance management firm said it was employed to ensure customers have an uninterrupted service by pinpointing issues before they impact consumers.

Despite the SAN being issued by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), the ATO renegotiated its IT contract in December with DXC Technology, giving the global giant a further AU$735 million for "centralised computing".

The contract, now worth AU$1.47 billion, is valid until the end of June 2019.

The original contract was awarded to HPE back in December 2010; however, DXC has emerged with the billion-dollar contract following a string of mergers and sector spin-outs.

A report into the outages experienced as a result of the failure of the HPE-owned and operated equipment at the end of 2016 revealed the SAN could not handle more than one drive or cage failure thanks to a design decision taken by HPE.


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