Tax office still has a lot of reinventing to go: ​ATO CIO

Australian Taxation Office chief information officer Jane King said while the ATO has made progress in its Reinventing the ATO blueprint, it still has a long way to go.

Australian Taxation Office chief information officer Jane King jokingly asked: "The tax office, innovation, and speed, do they all go together?"

According to King, who was speaking at Technology in Govern in Canberra on Tuesday, it's starting to look that way as the agency continues to make inroads into its Reinventing the ATO blueprint.

"The focus is on the client and customer experience, and about making it easy to do business with the ATO," she said.

King boasted the ATO continues to work on converting paper tax lodges to electronic, and has so far managed to remove 20 million unwanted items from its paper warehouses; removing 3,000 unused or out of date content, and that it's currently 93 percent through the cleanse; and encouraging people to take advantage of ATO's self-service options online by directing people back online who call through to its call centres.

She added that two years ago, the ATO also mandated the move from cheque to Eftpos, managing to convert three million cheque acceptors and only receiving three complaints.

In addition, the ATO launched its myTax return lodgement system as a replacement of its e-tax application, which King said got nearly one million people through the myTax process last year, and hopes to see two million users this year.

However, during the launch of the myTax portal last year, the ATO suffered through several difficulties in the first few days. The ATO at the time pointed the finger to "intermittent errors with the authentication process" and reassured less than 1 percent of users were affected.

King said the ATO is also a keen supporter of the myGov portal and made it compulsory this year for any tax lodgement, or any online service, to go through the myGov gateway. She said there have been three million enrollments since May 2014 coming through the myGov environment.

King noted that prior to any of these changes made just over two years ago, the ATO was a different place where feedback from both the government and community was frequently about how its systems were commonly referred to as archaic.

Going forward, while King admitted that there's still a long way to go for the ATO, the focus will be on mobile apps and further improving its myTax return lodgement system.

"We've got a way to go. We're doing reasonably well in some areas but we still have got a way to go to meet the government's agenda around digital transactions in an end-to-end sense," she said.

King said come September, the ATO will be also introducing voice authentication to its recently launched myTax mobile app to give users added security for their personal accounts. Voice authentication was a feature the agency introduced earlier this year to myTax, which King described as going "exceptionally well", saying users are finding it as a "much easier way to authenticate rather than to go through 200 questions".

To encourage further usage of its new app, King said it now features myDeductions, an "electronic shoebox" where individuals can photograph their receipts and capture records of their trips, which they can file away into the cloud, and share it with tax agents.

For business users, the ATO has integrated a business performance tool onto the app to give users access to benchmark data to help them indicate the health of their business, King said.

King said to further enhance myTax, there are plans to introduce a function which would see tax rates be personalised for individuals, depending on their financial circumstances.

"This is a forward thinking piece where we would capture data when you start employment, get real-time reporting and information, and adjust your tax rate on the fly. You could imagine if we could combine that with social services side, they could adjustment benefits on the fly so there'll be no more over payments or underpayments," she said.

Another area of focus for the ATO going forward will also be encouraging people to lodge their tax directly with the agency, rather than through tax agents.

"We're working very closely with them as their business model shifts to what is the value they can bring to their clients, and how we can support that. We still want them in our broader ecosystem, and there's a lot we can do we with data that will expose them and help them add value," she said.

King further highlighted that the whole premise behind the reinvention is because the ATO wants to build the trust of the community.

"It's a culture issue that we're working very hard on. Certainly a lot of folks use tax agents because they think that's a safety net. They don't trust that we're not going to come back at them ,or if they get something wrong we will attack the agent.

"Clearly, we have to generate trust that we're not out to get people, but actually out there to help and support you when you come through the system in a sensible way, and sure you are able to comply with the obligations."

Equally contributing to the change in the ATO has been culture, King said. She said part of it was driven by the agency's completely new senior management team.

"We're very conscious that if we don't get the culture right, we know we're not going to get the rest right."