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  • Managing data resources and systems

    How we are making it easier

    Getting the most from our data

    For the ATO, data is a strategic resource. We generate, receive and analyse a vast amount of data from individuals, businesses and other organisations, including government agencies, employers and financial services providers. During 2016–17, we received more than 640 million records from third-party providers.

    We use this data to make it easy for people to participate through personalised pre-fill services. We also match third-party data with our own data holdings to identify those who may not be doing the right thing. More broadly, data and analytics provide the evidence on the health of the tax and superannuation systems and the policy advice we provide to government.

    Financial services providers currently supply us with financial transaction data on request and will provide this information automatically from 1 July 2017. Data providers are also cooperating with us to supply data more quickly after the end of the income year, which enables earlier pre-filling and lodgment of tax returns by individuals. Using pre-filled data makes it easier for taxpayers and reduces the potential for error.

    We are expanding the range of information available via our pre-fill service:

    • From Tax Time 2017, we will pre-fill data we receive from state and territory land title offices on property disposals, helping people correctly calculate and report capital gains and losses.
    • From Tax Time 2018, we will pre-fill information on the sale of shares and units, taking advantage of more systematic reporting by share registries and other financial services providers.

    By using data to better understand our clients, we are able to provide a more holistic approach to meeting their needs. Sophisticated methods of data analysis, when applied to the financial accounts of larger taxpayers, enable us to understand complex business structures and provide assurance that they comply with their tax obligations.

    Data is providing us with the facts, relationships, risk profiles and client preferences to support our staff and clients. It is also helping us to develop effective automated processes, including:

    • using complex analytic models to produce behavioural ‘nudge’ messages in myTax for those whose claims for work-related expenses are inconsistent with people in similar positions
    • better ways to facilitate payment of debt through using data to understand previous client behaviours
    • implementation of the Enterprise Client Profile system, which brings together data from various systems to create a whole-of-client view to help us engage with clients in a more personalised way
    • a new data-indexing system that enables staff to search and access more than 119 million pieces of information, reducing time and increasing consistency in responding to clients.

    We will continue to expand our use of data to keep pace with community expectations, improve the experience of our clients and ensure integrity in the tax and superannuation systems. Our strong focus will continue to be on:

    • identifying and acquiring the data needed
    • engaging with market data and analytics partners to enhance our ability to gain client insights
    • sharing data across government, business and academia to tailor services and help provide insights.

    Delivering contemporary and tailored services

    Managing our technology and systems

    Over the last 12 months, we continued to manage our technology and systems to deliver on the government’s legislative change agenda – for example, changes to Super Reform, Tax Time and Single Touch Payroll – and deliver client and staff experience improvements. For example, in 2016–17 we:

    • increased the capacity of our systems to support successful delivery of tax time and enhancements to our online services
    • supported our staff with new mobile services such as iPads and smart phones
    • expanded the capacity of our systems to meet the increasing demands from business through delivery of Single Touch Payroll and other software services.

    Building resilience in our systems

    Our focus is on ensuring the availability of our systems when our staff and our clients need them. However, the system failures we experienced in December 2016 and February 2017 were unexpected and, to our knowledge, unprecedented. Once the system failure occurred in December, the ATO and the contract service provider acted immediately to ensure services were restored as quickly as possible.

    While system failures disrupted services and delayed system enhancements, we re-prioritised resources to ensure delivery of our Tax Time 2017 commitments. In general, this has been successful.

    We also:

    • delivered a new storage area network (SAN) platform to provide greater resilience and availability of our client-facing systems
    • replicated data for our critical business applications to operate in a dual data centre
    • transferred ato.gov.au, ATO Online and Standard Business Reporting 2 to the ‘cloud’ and across multiple data centres to make them highly available
    • reviewed business continuity and contingency plans to ensure productive work can continue if a system failure occurs.

    In an increasingly digital environment, occasionally there is a risk of system failures when operating, maintaining and upgrading large and complex systems such as the tax and superannuation platforms.

    No taxpayer data was lost or compromised as a result of the system failures and there was no impact to tax revenue for 2016–17. All refunds were paid inside our service standards and affected taxpayers were automatically allowed additional time to lodge or make payments to us.

    Reflecting on the experience of the system failures and understanding how reliant the community is on using digital services, we will continue to implement improvements to our infrastructure, systems and processes to enhance the availability and resilience of our systems.

    In addition, we commissioned independent analysis of our entire IT infrastructure, platforms and services to identify and reduce the risks of any further unplanned digital failures.

    Keeping taxpayer information secure

    We take the security and privacy of taxpayers’ personal information very seriously. We have steps in place to ensure data and online transactions with us are secure and safe.

    As with other domains, the digital transformation of the tax and superannuation systems comes with an increased risk of cyberattacks, information compromise, and identity crime.

    The ATO commissioned a Cyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC) in August 2016 to provide the organisation with an enhanced security monitoring capability. Equipped with state-of-the-art technology, the CSOC provides real-time monitoring of attempts to infiltrate, disable or compromise our information systems through methods such as phishing, scams, malicious software, potential denial-of-services and data exfiltration.

    Real-time monitoring enables us to respond promptly to the dynamic nature of cyberthreats with protective security measures and to mitigate damage if our systems are compromised.

      Last modified: 30 Oct 2017QC 53756