ATO systems aren’t bound by commercial service standards

Tony Greco, General Manager Technical Policy at the Institute of Public Accountants, talks about calls for compensation due to constant ATO website outages

Introduction: ATO systems aren’t bound by commercial service standards

Ross Greenwood: Welcome back to Money News right around Australia. This is not a bad one. It’s interesting that when you have outages, now for any commercial organization generally, if you are adversely affected as a result of those outages, you’ve got to claim against that organization. You’d imagine that. Well, tax offices has done its own report into its various IT outages over a long period of time. It has come to the conclusion it’s not bound by the same service standards as commercial organizations.

When it comes to assessing its liability for these ongoing system outages. What it sees is that despite the fact that its services are being taken offline for hours, which is not very good for Australians or businesses wanting to launch their documents. Certainly not for the accounting industry which is trying to do that on behalf of its clients. Then it’s actually got a whole situation now where the tax offices is going, “Why we’re washing your hands now? Not us.”

What do you got? Now, the other part also is that it’s being partly as a result of Hewlett-Packard which is where the ATO largely has pointed the finger. Now, the other part also is Hewlett-Packard report has not been released to anybody. There’s not an enormous amount of transparency in regards to what the hell is going on. When it’s going to be fixed? Indeed, the ATO is saying, “We’re a big organization. Sometimes things don’t work.” I wonder whether that’s good enough. Let’s get Tony Greco who is a general manager of Technical Policy at the Institute for Public Accountants. Tony, many thanks for your time.

Interview: Tony Greco, General Manager, Technical Policy for Institute for Public Accountants

Tony Greco: Yes. Evening Ross.

Ross Greenwood:In this regard, just explain to me who should be paying the price? Because I’m presumed somebody does ultimately lose if the tax office systems are not working.

Tony Greco: Well I think that the point is that the tax practitioner community do all the heavy lifting. It’s 74% of the public and 90% of the business people use the tax practitioner community to do all things in relation to administration. They’re doing all the heavy lifting in relation to interaction with the ATO. When the systems go down, it’s primarily the tax practitioner community that bear the brunt of all the outages, all of the mishaps, all the loss of functionality.

It’s not just one isolated event, while we’re having this conversation, it’s pretty much a constant tirade of things that have gone wrong. The big ones in relation to last year. The December and February this year, they were hardware related. That was things that happened outside the square box. It’s basically exposed a lot of sore wounds with respect to all of pre-existing history.

What we’re saying is, enough is enough. What we’re trying to say, our members and the broader tax paying community has had enough of the apologies. We just want a service standard. Something that we can go to and say, “Okay. You guys have to give us systems so we can do our bit. We want robust functional systems most of the time.” If you can’t deliver that, then maybe to change this culture of failures that have happened in the past.

If they committed to a service standard and they’re accountable for that service standard and if there was a financial penalty, there might just be enough to change the cultural shift within the ATO.

Ross Greenwood:Now I tell you one thing here, Tony. I just jump in there as well because you’re organization has argued that there should be financial penalty. Interesting enough, of course, everybody here pays because we’re the taxpayers. Ultimately, we’re paying for mistakes inside the tax office. This is a big issue, isn’t it? Because whether in fact the people who are making these key decisions, because it’s a massive use of computer power.

It’s trying to look into every aspect of our lives. Now that’s all very well but when the functionality of its computers at the other end goes bad, the question is, is it the way ultimately have to pay the penalties for them not getting it right in the first place?

Tony Greco: Well, absolutely. The ATO is probably the second biggest government agency and it’s spent some serious dollars on IT. Indirectly, all tax payers are paying for those systems and the users predominantly are the tax practitioner community. In the end, we’re trying to serve the community and when these systems don’t function or they go down, a lot of people are twiddling their thumbs.

There’s a huge opportunity cost that our profession ends up wearing and the ATO basically just dish out an apology. I think they need to be accountable. In Victoria, for example, if the provider of a transport don’t meet a KPI, there’s a financial penalty. You bet your bottom dollar, they are going to do everything humanly possible to make sure that they live up to those KPIs.

Ross Greenwood:Either think Tony, because when you think about this you are right. You are absolutely right. If it was anybody else they would be some sort of KPI and you’d charge them on that and pay them accordingly. You sit there and say, alright if the systems all work we pay you, as the senior leaders and people of running the IT at the Tax office we pay you a bonus. You lose the bonus the more outages you have and you think well that makes a bit of common sense.

Except then you sit there and say well actually, I would expect the IT systems to work all the time. You just shouldn’t get a bonus for it working all the time but it should work all the time. The problem is then you sit there and say because they are public servants, we can’t take anything away from you because that’s the real fundamental problem here, isn’t it?

Tony Greco: Well, if for example you’ve got an internet provider and they fail to deliver, you just go somewhere else. Unfortunately, in our profession we can’t go anywhere else, we have to use their systems. It’s integral to whatever we do, we can’t walk the talk and say we are going to go to another provider. We are locked in. Our members, in particular, suffered the productivity losses that are associated with those outages and loss of functionality.

We are saying okay, we have asked for compensation not everyone operates a compliant space business so the impact on our members is very varied. Like if people are heavily reliant on compliance, they’ve suffered the most. It’s warranted but they don’t have a compensation scheme. The ATO were compensated out of court settlement with HP being the hardware provider. They effectively got something back for the extra cost that they incurred. The rest of us, the community at large too and in particular our profession, don’t get anything they just get an apology.

Ross Greenwood:Tell you what, that’s a very good observation. Tony Greco, the general manager of Technical Policy at the Institute for Public Accountants. It’s calling for financial compensation for people who are affected by tax office outages. The tax offices as he points out actually got money out of Hewlett Parker at HP. Because it got the system wrong but the tax office is saying, no, we are not passing on that money to other people who might be affected by this.

Even the Inspector General of Taxation, Ali Noroozi, who we sometimes speak to here, has suggested the tax office should set aside more money. To compensate tax payers and tax practitioners who face losses including noneconomic losses due to mistakes or prolonged IT outages. It’s a really good subject. We take your calls on this on 131873. Tony Greco, many thanks for your time.

Tony Greco: Thanks, Ross. Cheers.


Other related articles on ATO and Website Outages

06-07-2017 ATO Commissioner Chris Jordan s day from hell

05-07-2017 ATO website outage

28-06-2017 Inspector-General of Taxation to investigate ATO

07-06-2017 Airfare scams from cheap websites

31-05-2017 9News: Paul Hogan and ATO stand off

30-05-2017 ATO Commissioner grilled at Senate Estimates

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