Aussie tax agent portal sets a new 'gold standard'

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Aussie tax agent portal sets a new 'gold standard'

Benchmark Awards 2020 finalist.

When the Australian Taxation Office first flagged its online tax agent portal overhaul more than four years ago, it had one key goal: fixing stability.

In the years prior, the agency’s legacy tax and BAS agent portals had struggled with serious problems around reliability, resulting in a flood of complaints from tax agents.

The portals, which were first introduced in 2002, were the sole way for agents to access ATO systems and client records, as well as to communicate with the agency on behalf of clients.

The stability issues came to a head in 2015, when an inquiry by the parliamentary tax and revenue committee urged the ATO to address concerns with a series of targeted improvements.

It led the agency to build an entirely bespoke portal, dubbed online services for agents, to address these concerns and improve usability through additional self-service functionality.

The new platform, which leverages cloud-based infrastructure in the form of IaaS and PaaS, has been built in partnership with Accenture, who contributed to the design and development.

The ATO also worked with digital service provides to design and test an equivalent set of services, which could be consumed in agent practice management software via APIs.

Starting as a private beta in December 2017, the platform was tested with 2000 tax agents, before moving to a public beta in January 2019.

While the platform was meant to be in place by early 2019, a brief delay meant it was several more months before the long-awaited replacement finally became the default portal in August 2019.

Three months later, the tax and BAS agent portals that online services for agents was built to replace were finally switched off.

In addition to addressing issues of stability, the new platform offers tax agents a holistic view of their clients and new mobile-friendly functionality that encouraging self-service.

Since the platform was introduced, the ATO has been overwhelmed by feedback, particularly from many international revenue agencies, who consider it the new standard to beat.

Online service for agents is already resulting in cost-savings and increased efficiency for both tax agents and the ATO.

For instance, initial agent feedback suggests a 50 percent reduction in the time spent on the phone with the ATO, an impressive feat by any stretch.

One such feature allows tax agents to create payment plans for their clients in five minutes online instead of 30 minutes over the phone.

The ATO expects this self-service functionality will save $5 million each year alone.

The platform has also provided the foundations, particularly around the use of APIs, to ensure tax is more streamlined in the future, building on other initiatives like single touch payroll.

It has similarly become a test bed for the federal government’s new digital identity credential, known as myGovID.

myGovID will replace the government’s AUSkey authentication solution in March 2020.

This project has been named a finalist in the Federal Government category of the iTnews Benchmark Awards for 2020.

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