The most successful e-government public service to date, the Revenue Online Service (ROS) processes 70pc of all income tax forms filed in the country as well as 92pc of all new vehicle registrations.
The ROS site (www.ros.ie) was launched in 2000 following the 1997 Irish Information Society Commission’s statement that “self-service over the internet should be introduced by all government departments as a matter of urgency”.
Margaret McElroy, marketing manager for the ROS, says it has developed over the years on a phased basis using the maxim ‘think big, start small, scale fast’.
“Additional taxes and duties are added to the service regularly with two or three major releases every year. Developments are focused on enhancements required by customers and services to complement specific sectors,” says McElroy.
The statistics are impressive: in 2006 alone over two million tax returns were filed with over 244,114 Income Tax forms filed on time.
With 42pc of employer’s payroll taxes and 28pc of Vat, as well as vehicle registrations all paid through the ROS, €16.9bn in payments were made last year.
Online customer help is kept busy too, with over six million customer information service enquiries made in 12 months.
The objectives of the ROS, says McElroy, are to encourage electronic filing of returns and other electronic information exchange and eliminate routine processing and paper handling towards a more effective and efficient organisation. A vital objective is to deliver on commitments to e-government, she adds.
Although many people may assume that the ROS is simply a way of ensuring taxes are paid, it is also designed to help the citizen customer deal with government refunds and repayments.
Last year Revenue introduced a group of online self-service facilities for PAYE taxpayers through the ROS.
“This initiative is a major investment in improving customer service to over two million employees. It allows PAYE taxpayers to claim their tax credits, claim repayments such as medical expenses, update their address details or request a review of their tax liability,” says McElroy.
“All of these can be carried out at a time and place that best suits the employee.”
McElroy maintains that there are benefits for everybody in the ROS initiative. Apart from the benefits to PAYE employees, self-service facilities are also of help to payroll departments allowing for employees to change their tax credits with minimum delay.
“This reduces the demands on payroll staff, so companies can actively encourage employees to avail of the service and facilitate them in availing of the online option by allowing them access to Revenue’s website, Revenue.ie,” says McElroy.
Site design and ease of use is an important factor in ensuring a good user experience on the ROS, says McElroy.
“Forms are simple, user-friendly and intuitive to complete and have no duplication. The availability of an immediate and accurate calculation facility for difficult and lengthy tax returns provides significant savings for customers.
“The validation checks minimise errors and reduce the need for further correspondence with Revenue.”
Small but vital tools like in-built calculators in all forms and validations throughout the forms help make the process as pain-free and straightforward as possible for users.
There are several key aspects to ROS which has helped drive its success including support from senior management.
“This came from both the Minister for Finance and the Board of the Revenue Commissioners from the outset.
“The support was and is vital when changes in business processes are being proposed and when additional resources are required,” says McElroy.
The team behind ROS’s development has played a crucial part in the system, providing the backbone from which Revenue deploy their services to the public.
“The selection of Accenture for website development and Baltimore Technologies for website security, and more recently with LanComms/RSA, has proved very successful.
“From the start Revenue has operated as a team. Accenture and Revenue staff work onsite together all of the time and Baltimore came onsite when necessary. This approach was and is critical to our success, particularly in timely delivery,” adds McElroy.
Perhaps one reason why Revenue has been so successful is that it appointed a full-time strategy manager. This, coupled with government support and funding provided by the Information Society Fund, encouraged agencies to embrace the internet as a way of conducting business with both citizens and businesses.
As with every online service that requires personal details, the ROS recognises the need for security. When a site processes a citizen’s tax and income details, security is paramount, both for the customer and the Revenue itself.
“While Revenue is in the customer service business, we are also in the prosecution business and have to be prepared for all challenges in both the paper and electronic world.
“Revenue opted for the use of PKI, or public key infrastructure. This provides us with three key features: identification authentication; data integrity; and non-repudiation.”
This means that the identity of the customer will be confirmed as they enter the secure ROS site. Then the content that the customer sends is checked to make sure it is the same as what Revenue receives and can be proved as such.
Finally, checks are in place to ensure the customer cannot deny that the communication took place with the Revenue Commissioners.
Though already successful, Revenue has further plans for expanding the ROS including the introduction of e-stamping which should facilitate an e-conveyancing solution: a welcome addition given the high level of property ownership in Ireland.
Bu Marie Boran