ATO commits to complexity

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ATO commits to complexity

Greater demand, fewer apps.

The Australian Taxation Office has resigned itself to a complex environment of 200 core applications and 1200 supported applications after its simplification efforts of the past decade.

The applications are supported by chief information officer Bill Gibson and the ATO’s IT workforce of about 1900 staff.

They exist alongside a further 3000 custom ‘applications’, including data warehouse queries and Microsoft Excel macros, with a total of 60,000 touch points between all applications.

Gibson said the ATO would remove up to 12,000 application interfaces within 18 months to meet some of the last remaining objectives of its 2004 Change Program.

But although simplification was the dream, Gibson said a more realistic goal would be to maintain the current number of applications while supporting a growing list of demands from business users and citizens.

“If our critical business applications don’t grow from what we have today, that will be a good outcome,” he told iTnews.

“We’re coping with this at the moment – just – but if that’s the level that we can keep it at, we know we can cope with that level of complexity.”

Earlier this month, Gibson told an Optus conference that the ATO’s technical architecture principles called for channel-independent, service-oriented, secure system designs.

Stakeholders were asked to take a “patterns-based” approach in their demands, adapting business processes to match existing solutions where possible.

“Everybody always says, ‘oh but I’m different’,” Gibson said. “But really, we’re very ruthless and rigorous in saying, if 95 percent of this is an ideal fit, why do we need to change it when you can have it tomorrow.

“If we were to build a new one, they could have it in six months and there would be a cost involved as well.”

The ATO’s Change Program formally concluded in 2010, replacing a number of legacy mainframe and paper-based systems with a Siebel-based system.

In 2006, the ATO also replaced some 186 audit management systems with a single system that handled about 40 pre-defined case types.

Building in a complex environment

The ATO spends about $770 million a year on technology, of which about a third is allocated to transformational projects and change.

Gibson has championed a “buy-reuse-build” approach to projects, in which new off-the-shelf technology is preferred over repurposed systems, and bespoke development is a last resort.

A majority of the agency’s software development projects employ traditional, waterfall management techniques, through which systems are updated in quarterly batch releases.

Gibson said the waterfall method would likely continue to suit complex backend system changes but said the ATO was looking to employ Agile project management techniques where possible, in a bid to slash delivery time.

He said the agency would employ third parties to help it adopt Agile practices and identify services that could be exposed through a service-oriented architecture (SOA).

The ATO has planned to adopt SOA principles for almost a decade.

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