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Wednesday, 01 March 2017

The Australian Tax Office’s (ATO) IT systems again experienced a major outage in February causing widespread problems with the ATO’s portals. The ATO said the IT problems were a continuation of the major outage in December.
The fresh round of widespread IT outages has caused major disruptions and widespread criticism.

The ATO has still been unable to identify the cause of the problem. ATO chief information officer Ramez Katf said the ATO would jettison the Hewlett-Packard Enterprise data storage system that first failed last December, and would expand the scope of an ongoing review into the first crash to include the latest one.

Mr Katf said the fact that its 13-month-old HPE storage system was still relatively new had added to the confusion surrounding its technical failure, but it would retain faith in the US tech giant and upgrade to its latest storage area network instead.

"We commissioned it in late 2015, a little over 12 months ago, which I think adds to the mystery. This type of hardware is typically very resilient and we were taken aback by the extensiveness of the outage and its impact," Mr Katf said.

Visitors to the ATO website from Thursday 2 to Sunday 5 February received an error message. Mr Katf acknowledged that four days was too long for the office's services to be down and said the ATO was looking at a range of ways to improve its recovery time.

However Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan condemned as an attempt to create “unnecessary mischief” a media report saying the IT failures could cause problems for Tax Time 2017.

Fairfax Media reported “The Tax Office cannot guarantee it will begin Tax Time 2017 on July 1 as it scrambles desperately to save this year's tax return program from the fall-out of its disastrous pre-Christmas online meltdown.

“The agency has abandoned much of its IT program for this year and can only say it is "confident" that businesses and taxpayers will be able to lodge and receive tax returns on the day after the end of the financial year.

“ATO insiders believe the office should be able, just, to avoid having to postpone tax time 2017 but it will come at the price of much of its technological program for the year.”
Fairfax said, “The finances of millions of Australian taxpayers and businesses could be thrown into chaos if the Tax Office failed to be ready to receive tax returns on the July 1.”

In response Mr Jordan issued a statement saying “Claims made in today’s media that Tax Time 2017 is under threat due to our recent system outages are completely without foundation.

“We are absolutely confident that taxpayers will be able to lodge their returns and receive refunds on time from 1 July.

“It is disappointing that some people are trying to create unnecessary mischief during what has already been a challenging and testing time for the community and the ATO. This is very unfortunate as it undermines the commitment and good work that our people have undertaken to return ATO services to normal operation and bring them back online as quickly and reliably as possible.

“Initial indications are there has been a failure by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) to provide contracted services in a reliable way and ensure stability of our systems. The cause of the failures will be informed by the review led by PwC that I commissioned after the first outage in December 2016. As I said at that time, I want to know what happened in forensic detail so that we can assure the community they will not face this kind of disruption in their dealings with us, that businesses who rely on our services can go about running their business without interruption.

“I can assure the community that we are taking this seriously and it has the highest priority. I have already met a number of times with the most senior HPE representatives in the region and corresponded with their CEO to ensure they are aware of the disruption and damage this kind of event causes and remind them of their contractual arrangements.

“Our immediate priority is to provide stable services to the community, business, our key stakeholders and government.

“Our ATO technicians are working with HPE’s global team of experts to fully replace the affected hardware. This ongoing work will ensure we can meet the deliverables for the Government’s legislative agenda and our priority services that support the community’s engagement with the tax and super systems.

“We are committed to offering contemporary and reliable services to the community. The development and release of many new service offerings under our Reinvention program have not contributed to these system outages. Initial indications are that the outages have been caused by faulty hardware.

“I commit to you we will get to the bottom of this, fix it for the longer term and maintain contemporary and reliable services to the community.”

In its most recent detailed report on progress in restoring its systems issued at 6.30 am on Monday 6 February the ATO said, “We are pleased to report that most of our systems are back up and running, with core services used by our clients, including the Tax Agent, Business and BAS Agent Portals, ATO Online services, and Standard Business Reporting (SBR) services now available.

“Superannuation online services will be ramped up over the course of this morning. We are in final stages of restoration of the Australian Business Register (ABR) and expect it to be available shortly. We expect the remainder of our services to become available throughout the day.

“Our clients may experience some slowness as further work is undertaken to improve the overall performance of our systems.

“Our focus will now turn to building system resilience to best ensure the stability of our services to the community.


Click below to view source

ATO: Commissioner's statement - ATO systems

ATO: ATO systems update

Fairfax Media: Tax time in danger from ATO's tech wreck

Australian Financial Review: ATO admits it's baffled by outages but upgrades to latest HPE hardware anyway

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