ATO sidelines e-tax for Mac until 2013

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ATO sidelines e-tax for Mac until 2013

Security, accessibility behind delay.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has delayed plans to release a version of its e-tax software for Mac until next year.

Attempts to introduce the much-anticipated platform to accountants and individuals this year were delayed by internal approvals around security and accessibility, ultimately missing the 2012 tax period.

"The platform isn't mature enough or stable enough for our needs yet and that's the primary reason why we have chosen to not deploy it for this year's tax time," ATO chief information officer, Bill Gibson, told iTnews.

"But we're quite confident that we will be able to for next year's tax time."

E-tax, which allows individuals to submit tax returns online, has been available exclusively for Windows since 1999, while promises of Mac compatibility circling as early as 2007.

The department has previously cited limitations with the Delphi platform underpinning the e-tax software but a new version of the Delphi platform released last year introduced a cross-platform graphical user interface which finally made a Mac version feasible.

Consultancy Capgemini received a $156,000 contract in February this year to conduct a governance review determining the feasibility of porting the application.

"We started proving to ourselves whether this was a viable and mature and stable platform around September or October of last year," Gibson said.

"Unfortunately we weren't able to complete the work with our third-party providers to get it done for this current tax time."

ATO's technology partner DWS Advanced Business Solutions produced an in-house build of e-tax for Mac OS X 10.6 or 'Snow Leopard'. This underwent a series of performance and acceptance tests to assess whether it could operate to ATO's standard.

According to the department's first assistant commissioner for enterprise applications, Steve Hamilton, the Mac build currently falls short on key areas of security, reporting and universal accessibility.

"As you can appreciate, the interaction of tax payer data is quite key in terms of a person's identity," Hamilton said.

"We need to be quite solid on the encryption that goes with the product to make sure there's no data theft between a person's house and the tax office ... broadly speaking, we wanted to make sure the platform was secure enough to protect tax payers."

The Delphi XE2 platform which made a Mac version of the software also fell short in key areas for the ATO, including the ability to make the software easier to use for the visually impaired, and a lack of reporting back to the department.

The lack of Mac support has been a source of contention among tax users for years, forcing them to visit an accountant or use a friend's computer in order to complete their returns.

"[When] we first made e-tax available on the Delphi platform, we targeted it at Windows because at the time something like 90-per cent of the market share was Windows-based," Hamilton said.

"Currently, about 7.8 percent of all people who hit the ATO.gov.au website are using a Macintosh operating system, whereas today the Windows based platforms are doing about 78-80 percent."

Despite the marked difference in platform user between Mac and Windows users, Gibson said the department did not "undervalue the need to deliver this type of channel to the community".

"I know that the Mac users feel they're not heard, but there's a critical mass now of users there that really have made it of value for us to move this way ... we've done a lot of work in the past few months to make sure we're on that path."

Despite plans to release e-tax for Mac next year, Gibson said iOS and other mobile devices were not going to be supported any time soon.

"There are some very very keen [e-tax] users out there," Gibson said, noting the department had already received more than 200 tax returns within hours of releasing the 2012 version of the software to Windows users this week, ahead of the official July 1 launch.

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