How soaring demand for government services accelerated digital transformation

Australians seeking government support during the pandemic quickly discovered that easy access to digital records could help speed up every transaction.

While many digital transformation programs were underway in the public sector prior to COVID-19, Australians’ interest in digital-first interactions with government has been massively amplified.

Accountants accustomed to hearing from clients only at tax time have been inundated with requests to update and digitize financial records. The two leading accounting industry associations noted that the rapid adoption of digital technologies in 2020 was the ‘the best hour’ (CAANZ) and ‘key factors enabling businesses to survive and thrive’ (APC).

At the ATO, there were additional pressures to further streamline customer service while manage risk to support Commonwealth economic response measures.

“We want to make it as seamless as possible for people, although it’s not just about putting up a webpage or building an app,” says Row Katfsecond commissioner and chief information officer at the ATO. “Those are two important elements for the customer, and then there is a third element, which is integration with software and data.

“We want to make the tax an integral part of business commerce, and the challenge for us and others is where we can integrate it with natural systems, to make that capacity for compliance even stronger.

How STP helped pave the way for JobKeeper

Katf notes that the ATO’s support for the JobKeeper program was guided by the department’s digital transformation program developed nearly a decade ago. Accountants urged their clients to adopt more digital technologies long before COVID-19, and the rollout of Single Touch Payroll (STP) in 2018-2019 made basic digital adoption a necessity.

Katf acknowledges that third-party software developers have been “fundamental” to making STP work by providing input into the design and implementation, and then helping to drive adoption. “We have a very strong collaboration process with software developers,” he says. “It’s become a very important part of our business model because if we want to integrate into natural systems, they’re a key enabler for that.”

When working with third parties on a project, the ATO looks for organizations to “add value to the journey we’re on,” Katf says. “We make it very clear to our vendors and suppliers that value for money is the first thing we look at – we are always aware of this. We are also looking for organizations that will bring practices or experiences from other places that we can adopt. And we need them to understand our business. We don’t want any of these things fulfilled; we need it to meet the three attributes.

“Obviously in the case of STP it has boosted their business, but they are also helping to collect and verify information for the ATO.”

Other contributors to STP’s success include tax agents, whom Katf describes as the “first line of information verification.”

When the ATO started working on the JobKeeper program, it was determined to leverage existing systems – STP data, myGovID and the ATO’s online services. “I think one of the successes has been using things that people were already comfortable with, and another has been the collaboration between our policy group, our business groups and our technology groups to transform politics in operation,” says Katf.

One of the first collaborative tasks was to ensure that features were designed to be intuitive from the start. Usability testing continued post-build to help technical and design teams make improvements throughout the rollout.

“From policy to execution, we were talking about 12 weeks,” says Katf. “So an intuitive front end and using the different data feeds that we had already made it easy for people to find out if they were eligible then allowed us to verify that quickly and not block payments from being released. If you look at the metrics on that, I’m pretty confident that we were able to qualify people effectively.

Katf reports that the ATO handled JobKeeper claims for nearly four million people every month, with around 98% of claims paid in less than five days. Over $89 billion has been disbursed to more than one million companies over the life of the program.

(You can read more about how STP paved the way for JobKeeper here.)

Public and private sector partnerships to deliver myGovID

Collaboration between government agencies to improve ways to manage Australians’ records has increased during the pandemic, Katf said. But from the ATO’s perspective, the biggest inter-agency project has been myGovID – a digital version of the 100-point identity verification method.

“About five years ago government departments started looking for new ways to help people stay safe in a digital world when interacting with government or any other organization,” he says. “There was growing recognition that passwords were less secure, so organizations started using multi-factor authentication. We wanted to get a head start by future-proofing the whole authentication mechanism.

MyGovID includes several ways to replicate checks performed by frontline staff, including a ability to scan user’s face for “standard” and “strong” proof of identity levels. Facial recognition public test for myGovID was announced in mid-2020 and the ATO began piloting the method in September 2021. This was five months after launching a new online business portal and its Relationship Authorization Manager (RAM) services, accessible through myGovID.

“The adoption and usage of myGovID and RAM has exceeded expectations,” says Katf. “Over 7.4 million myGovID accounts have been created, with IP2 (“standard”) the most common identity strength (3.54 million users).”

Katf also reports that 1.78 million successful facial verifications resulted in over 1.72 million “strong” myGovID enrollments (IP3); 63,000 tax file numbers were issued; 1.36 million businesses are connected; and more than two million business permits have been issued in RAM.

“MyGovID and RAM continue to provide a more streamlined experience across government as 31 agencies transitioned over 76 services, and more services continue to be integrated,” he said. “We created a capacity that could be reused by government departments at the state and federal levels. The TDIF (Trusted Digital Identity Framework) was created to define the ground rules and parameters that agencies would need to work together.

“We didn’t do it in isolation. It’s a classic example of collaboration – we created the credentials, Services Australia creates the exchange, and Home Affairs provides the back-end verification step.

Katf says collaborations on large government projects work best when there are open channels of communication and rapid escalation of issues in every organization, from the project and working groups to the highest levels.

“I think the collaboration we’ve had with Services Australia lately has been positively impacted by this open communication,” he says. “It’s about making sure everyone is on board with the design approach and principles and connected in a uniform way. One of our challenges was aligning some design intent, because interfacing with other agencies and integrating things is not a one-way street. »

Ashley C. Reynolds