The Office of the Revenue Commissioners (Revenue) is the taxation authority for the Republic of Ireland. Its mission is to serve the community by collecting taxes and duties and implementing customs controls. Revenue also performs work on behalf of other Government departments and employs more than 6,000 staff located in more than 100 offices throughout the country. Its net receipts collected in 2008 were in excess of €41bn.
Revenue is also acknowledged worldwide as being one of the most innovative and successful users of information and communications technology. The agency’s ICT and logistics division supports the delivery of its business strategy and its constituent goals of compliance, customer service, effective contribution and enhancing the organisation’s capabilities. Technically, it uses a blend of proprietary and open source technologies to deliver business solutions, augmented where available by commercial off-the-shelf packages.
Revenue requires a highly available, reliable database for its mission-critical computer systems. In 1993, it adopted Ingres’ database software, which is an open source, relational database management system (similar to proprietary systems such as Oracle or SQL Server) and since then has constantly upgraded to the latest versions to ensure a stable, supported, manageable, and economical platform that is used for primary back-office and public facing systems. It is also used for its well-known integrated taxation services and the revenue online facility. Furthermore, the newly revamped PAYE anytime Flex-based system is also underpinned by Ingres at the back-end.
In addition, it also powers case tracking and contact management systems, the Revenue data warehouse and third-party developed systems for Customs and Excise. According to Revenue’s chief technical officer (CTO) John Barron, the Ingres-based applications have scaled and performed well to support its business strategy during periods of sustained growth (the Celtic Tiger years) and the recent global economic contraction. “Technical changes such as Revenue’s move to the Java standard and its adoption of a SOA approach were also seamlessly accommodated,” he says.
Revenue, however, faced a new challenge. It had to upgrade to the latest open source version of Ingres for its core systems in order to take advantage of the richer feature set of Ingres 9.2 and the improved uplift in application performance and availability. Revenue has many databases in multiple Ingres installations, all of which support mission-critical applications either in production or at various stages of development. “It was essential to have minimal downtime during the upgrade and to ensure that all applications, especially our large-scale batch applications, continued to run smoothly. We cannot afford to be ‘off the air’ and a project was initiated to plan and implement the upgrade,” said Barron.
Revenue has executed a number of Ingres upgrades previously. The priority here was to ensure that its core systems continued to operate with particular emphasis on the overnight batch. A series of exhaustive tests were undertaken by Revenue IT staff on test databases to lay the foundations for a smooth migration. As problems were encountered, Revenue analysed the issues and if necessary raised support calls with Ingres.
According to Barron, Revenue received great support from the engineering and management teams at Ingres, whose rapid resolution of issues was “essential to the success of the project”. Once this testing phase was completed to Revenue’s satisfaction, the live databases were upgraded.
In terms of the actual software package used, Revenue installed the standard Ingres upgrade utility. The actual upgrade process takes less than an hour although associated tasks such as database checkpoints add to the overall upgrade time. The full upgrade to Ingres 9.2 for all systems was undertaken on a phased basis as testing was completed for each Revenue system.
According to Emma McGrattan, senior vice-president of engineering at Ingres, all of Revenue’s systems were moved one by one. “When the first system was moved successfully, that helped to build their confidence. After that they were happy we could move everything over to the latest version of our software without any problems,” she says.
The upgrade from Revenue’s existing platforms took 18 months. Revenue is now on the most modern Ingres platform and is fully supported for the coming years. Because of improved performance, it has saved on operational and maintenance costs and expects to achieve further savings into the future. It has also benefited from the open source business model and more cost-efficient subscription terms.
According to Barron, Revenue renegotiated the maintenance and support contract and has achieved 25pc savings. As well as its traditional transaction processing requirements, Revenue’s business model also demands increased use of business intelligence and analytics. “Ability to link with a range of existing open- and closed-source packages, as well as ongoing technical developments such as Ingres VectorWise, have given Revenue confidence that the product will continue to evolve to meet its needs in this field,” Barron comments.
For Ingres, the benefits it has accrued has been good word of mouth; particularly as Revenue hosts a variety of worldwide visitors in addition to numerous enquiries from public bodies and governments throughout the world who want to know about its technical setup. “We have reduced their bills and given them what they needed,” says McGrattan. “We’ve also moved them from proprietary systems to open source so all they have to pay is a support bill. So they are quite happy. They have recommended us to other customers and governments and told them what we have done.”
Commenting on the overall project, Barron says the upgrade enables Revenue to leverage improvements in performance and efficiency. “Applications are now better positioned for further growth and run on a well-supported, highly-available and agile database, with emerging community contributions feeding into the Enterprise Edition,” he concludes.
By Eamon McGrane