Institute of Certified Bookkeepers

A letter from Ramez Katf for publication in Tax Association Newsletters

I want to connect with you regarding our system outage at the end of last year and provide an explanation. I regret the impact the disruption of our services had on tax practitioners and our other clients and partners who experienced any interruption. My team and I know how important our services are to all our clients and we work hard to make them available for the community to use.

I know many people have a lot of questions that I will try to address to the best of my knowledge. At the outset I want to be clear that this was not a cyber-attack and there was no loss or compromise of taxpayer data. Early media reports to the contrary are simply wrong.

I also write to encourage your feedback. Already we have met with representatives of the professional associations. These discussions have been frank with many helpful and practical proposals regarding improved services and support.

What caused the problem?

We have not completed the full review of the root cause of the problem; however, it is clear we experienced a major malfunction of our data storage infrastructure in our central computing system that impacted the primary and backup systems at the same time.

This was a contemporary piece of hardware that was considered state of the art when it was upgraded only a little over 12 months ago.

As you can appreciate we have escalated this to the most senior people from our partner organisation, Hewlett Packard Enterprises (HPE), to seek an appropriate response.

We are working with HPE to understand the exact nature of the problem. They have assured us that this is a unique incident that has not been experienced in this type of hardware elsewhere in the world.

Who is doing the independent review?

In December 2016 the Commissioner announced an independent review into the outage. This will help us fully understand what happened and why, and what needs to be done to ensure we are not exposed to this type of incident in future.

We have appointed PwC to conduct the independent review because of their specific expertise with the ICT storage that is at the centre of the incident.

PwC have already commenced their review and are due to report back to us in March 2017 addressing questions such as

  • What caused the outage?
  • Why was there such a significant impact?
  • Was the ATO response appropriate?
  • What are the residual risks – if any?
  • What actions can be taken to mitigate further or future issues?

Separate to this we are also undertaking our own internal review to ensure we account for business impacts and experiences.

Will this happen again?

The events of 12 December 2016 are unique and unlikely to be repeated.

We are working on a number of initiatives to deliver more resilient and sustainable technology that will reduce and eliminate the number of disruptions you are experiencing.

This includes identifying and rectifying possible areas of risk in our technology platform as well as migrating our systems to more contemporary cloud-based offerings for technology delivery.

We are taking all precautions to address any possible risk areas in the short term. We know that the portals and other electronic channels you use must be made available at all times. We are committed to delivering this level of service.

What is the impact on the delivery of new electronic services?

We are in the process of reviewing our forward work program in light of the recent outages and we will keep you informed when this work is complete.

Additional measures to assist Tax Agents

We took action to defer due dates in December as well as the 15 January income tax due date. If you lodged within the deferred period you will not be penalised and your Lodgment Program “85 percent on time requirement” will not be affected.

If you have been affected by the outage and require additional deferrals you can:

  • send a secure message through the portal
  • call the Registered Agent phone line (13 72 86) - A special fast key code will soon be available to help route these enquiries.

Staff that review these requests will consider them in light of the impacts of the outage.

While the availability of deferrals should assist you in managing your lodgement program, we understand that as a consequence of the outage some agents may not be able to meet the “85 per cent on time” Lodgement Program requirement. Where this is the case we will not apply sanctions this year.

I encourage you to stay informed on system issues and outages by subscribing to the Tax professionals alert, and by checking the Tax Agent Portal Dashboard, BAS Agent Portal Dashboard and System maintenance page.

Again let me reiterate my regret for what happened and the impact this had on you and your clients. I do realise the importance of availability of the ATO systems and we are committed to providing a higher level of service.

Ramez Katf
Chief Information Officer
Australian Taxation Office

  • 24th January, 2017