`Dear ROS – Where have you been all my life?`
The Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners, Frank Daly, recently received the IIA’s Net Visionary e-Government award. ‘I am delighted personally but more delighted for Revenue because it recognises the effort we’ve put into delivering the e-government agenda and providing more convenient services for tax payers. It’s great for the people that have worked on it that it has been publicly recognised with the IIA [Net Visionary e-Government] award…’ Revenue has also recently been awarded Public Sector Times Web Site of the Year Award. They have also been nominated for the 02 Web site awards.
With such a successful web site and online service behind him, the IIA recently interviewed Mr Daly to find out what he sees as the major achievements of the Revenue Online Service (ROS) and the key areas that a public web site and online service should address.
Firstly what does he see as the major achievements of ROS? ‘We see the Internet as a great opportunity to make tax information available at any time and to provide service directly to the increasing number of people who have access to the Internet.’ The online service allows Revenue to deal with the huge volumes of business more efficiently and speedily.
There are approximately 2.8million individual taxpayers, which generated 15 million postage items last year and a huge number of returns and payments. ‘The more of these that we can do through the Internet the better for the organisation because we can then begin to use our people for more productive purposes.’
There are now approximately 15,000 customers signed up for the online service. However as many of these are accountants and tax consultants they actually represent about 64% of Revenue’s customer base. Revenue are still getting on average 150 new online customers a week. ‘The word is getting around that this is a good service’, says Daly. Proof of this is the 5.7 Billion euros that has been collected to date on the online service. There has been a 175,000 tax returns made electronically.
Up to now it would have meant a piece of paper coming in and being re-entered on the system. It has allowed them to cut down enormously on the amount of telephone enquiries and personal callers into Revenue. Revenue online is of course available 24/7, 365 and is thus a huge improvement on the traditional Monday to Friday 9 to 5 access, says Daly.
The next phase of the online service will see different tax forms coming online. For example by the end of January the 2002 tax return forms will be available, by the end of March tax gifts and inheritance tax and ‘relevant contract tax’ (for the construction sector) will be dealt with.
Later this year, Revenue will be providing web services for online software companies. Revenue aims to have seamless integration between ROS and the software used for preparing companies return. Other areas that will be dealt with later in the year include employers’ PAYE returns, access to employers for tax clearance certificates online and work on customs for exporters of common agriculture goods.
‘There is an ongoing agenda. Our ultimate objective is that by 2005, 50% of our business will be transacted online’.
I asked Frank Daly what impact the introduction of ROS had on the organisation. He told me that the major impact was the requirement for a total redesign of all tax forms. Revenue had to redesign their forms not just from a technical viewpoint but had to rethink the mechanisms behind them. This has made the forms much more user friendly and vastly improved customer service.
It is an understatement to say that the online service has cut down on paper work. To date Revenue has received 325000 RFI over the Internet. Each one of these equates to at least an item of correspondence or a telephone call that Revenue staff would have dealt with. ‘Its making it easier for people in Tax offices and Customs offices to get on with their ordinary work and not be constantly interrupted.’
Revenue will shortly be moving people from routine processing work to more productive work in chasing up non-compliant taxpayers. For example, since January 1st, online filing of vehicle registration tax has been allowed. In the first three weeks, 40% of the new registrations have been made online. Staff who would previously have been busy processing the paper registration can now be moved to other work.
Another benefit of the move away from manual processing of forms is the reduction of errors.
Daly admits that with any ‘innovative’ project you will get concerns from staff as they venture into the unknown. ‘We have been able to reassure staff that there will always be work for them in Revenue…We had a job to reassure people but we put together a huge communications exercise in every office (over 30 offices around the country with more than 7,000 staff).’ Daly says that now staff see the benefits to customers and because customers appreciate the changes, it makes it easier for staff. Younger people in particular see the benefits, as they are comfortable with technology.
A ROS team was put together with a mandate to develop ROS. The manager of this team (originally John Leamy, who has now moved on. The current manager is Margaret Whelan) had quite a lot of autonomy and a good team of people working with him. There was a steering group of senior managers to give general guidance. There was a champion of the process on the Board – Daly fulfilling this role for a time. A key element was senior management support for ROS. Within Revenue there is a strong partnership committee made up of management and staff union. This committee was very much on side of the process also, says Daly.
Key Issues to Address
Frank Daly spoke to me about what in general terms are the key issues that must be addressed when a public service is to be put online:
1. Security: People must be confident that the information they are sending to the public service cannot be intercepted or tampered with. From a Revenue perspective they have to be sure of the identity of their customers and that information sent cannot be repudiated. ‘We put a very high premium on that right from the start and we’ve addressed it with the highest level of technology available on the market.’
2. Confidence: Daly says: ‘If you put a system up – it should do what it purports to do, you shouldn’t oversell it. You should say what it will do and make sure it actually does that.’ The system should be resilient, reliable and user friendly. It should be timely in transaction acknowledgement.
3. Something extra: An online system has to offer something extra that isn’t there in the current system. For Revenue it was an easier, quicker, cheaper way of filing returns and making payments, and instant acknowledgement form Revenue that your form/payment has been received.
4. Marketing Effort: It’s not enough to build a system. Daly believes it necessary to go out and actively market and sell it. Daly also says you have to engage representative groups to bring them along in the process.
Feedback from the public has been overwhelmingly positive with one customer emailing in: ‘Dear ROS, Where have you been all my life?’ Nobody who has signed up for the service has yet to move away from it. Word of mouth at this stage is bringing in 150 customers each week.
Advantages for Revenue In summary I asked Frank Daly what are the main advantages to Revenue of the ROS service. They are as follows:
Reduced processing of forms and payments
Reduced correspondence and phone calls
Greater accuracy of the information coming into Revenue
Built in calculators in the system that reduce queries and errors
24hour 7 day nature of the ROS service helps significantly at peak filing times
Frees up staff from routine processing and they can be redeployed to concentrate on non-compliant customers.
Information can be interrogated electronically and this can be used for risk analysis in audit and compliance programmes.
Daly finishes by saying the most important thing in getting a public service online is that it should do what it’s supposed to do. ‘You don’ t over sell it or over talk it.’ The aim, he says is: ‘That it is resilient. That there is security. That we as public servants must be prepared to go out there and sell it. To engage with the people that will actually use it.