Tax office streamlines decisions

The Australian Taxation Office is rationalising its decision-making process as it gears up for a new stage of its AU$450 million, four-year change program.First assistant commissioner Paul Madden said the ATO was "holding discussions" internally to make the changes -- identified by the ATO change program team and partner Accenture before being clarified by assurance partner Capgemini -- as the program progresses to new stages.

The Australian Taxation Office is rationalising its decision-making process as it gears up for a new stage of its AU$450 million, four-year change program.

First assistant commissioner Paul Madden said the ATO was "holding discussions" internally to make the changes -- identified by the ATO change program team and partner Accenture before being clarified by assurance partner Capgemini -- as the program progresses to new stages.

The program is an upgrade of the ATO's systems and processes to ease tax compliance and involves the replacement of core systems.

Madden said two areas were being addressed: the level change project decisions should be made within the ATO and the process by which decisions crucial to making deadlines were identified and taken.

The ATO wanted to ensure decisions were made by the right people rather than having non-critical calls referred to executive-level, as was currently the case, he said.

If a decision had no real impact on change program outcomes, resources, timeframes or costs, it could be made within the change program team. Only decisions that did affect those areas should be referred beyond the team.

Madden said the ATO -- in an associated move -- was also working on understanding which decisions were crucial at a so-called 'critical path' level. These had to be made in order to meet key project deadlines. Prior to this, the ATO had been making its decisions in a 'tick the boxes,' or make them as they come up, fashion.

This process encompassed recognising how much information was actually required before a decision should be made. Madden cited the example of assessing the risk of making a decision when the ATO had 80 percent of that information and was faced with waiting a further six months before securing the remainder.

Madden stressed that these issues -- having hampered the project to date -- had to be addressed for the ATO to "keep up the pace".

Meanwhile, the ATO has pushed back rollout of the first release of its Siebel customer relationship management system -- part of phase one of the project -- from April to September.

That release involved management of the ATO's so-called 'inbound channel' -- fax, letters and e-mail -- and had been scheduled to kick off in October last year.

However, it did not start until 17 December and once past April, the ATO had to dedicate resources to implementing IT systems and policy initiatives for the start of the new financial year.

Greg Farr, ATO first assistant commissioner, told ZDNet Australia   last week the delay was associated with the implementation of an IBM product suite, which included enterprise application integration, transfer and load software.

The second release -- a case management system that allows ATO staff to access a person's entire history -- is now likely to kick off early next year.

Farr said an outcomes-based contract model employed for a four-year, AU$253 million software development deal with Accenture was also the bedrock of a revised arrangement with EDS. The ATO has extended an existing deal with the services heavyweight from June 2006 to June 2008, with the value rising to around AU$1.3 billion.

He said IBM and other vendors involved with the ATO were also "starting to identify with the outcomes we are trying to achieve" from the change program, rather than focus closely on service delivery.

However, the ATO remains wary of the potential of skills shortages to threaten the program.

It recently shifted a Siebel centre of excellence from Canberra to Melbourne due to a lack of workers with the requisite skills in the nation's capital.

"It's an ongoing problem we're going to have to manage," Farr said. "It's very high on our radar.

"It's not something I'm relaxed about".