The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) is circulating a position paper on XML for tax administrations prepared by the Australian Taxation Office.

The newly published “OASIS Tax XML Technical Committee (TC) XML Position Paper for Tax Administrations” is targeted at promoting the efficient exchange of tax data to reduce the administrative burden on companies and facilitate more effective compliance.

But Tax Office CTO Todd Heather says the paper will also serve as a building block in the definition of a Commonwealth Government Interoperability Framework being developed in close consultation with key Australian Government agencies. The framework is designed to provide greater opportunities for Commonwealth and possibly even State Government agencies to collaborate in joined-up solutions offering improved customer services.

OASIS’ Tax XML TC was set up to analyse personal and business tax reporting and compliance information to facilitate interoperability using XML in a way that is open, flexible and international in scope. It is also charged with producing a vocabulary of terms, a repository of artefacts including XML templates, documents exchanged for tax compliance, best practices, guidelines and recommendations for practical implementation.

Heather says the ATO’s contribution was undertaken as part of ongoing work sponsored by the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) to define interoperability standards across the Commonwealth to streamline cross-government processing.

“We are experimenting with some of the basic protocol standards. They’ve been successful. We’ve exposed a Web service standard for interaction with taxpayers and tax agents through our e-activity statement application, and we’re active in OASIS in the definition of Tax XML, Heather says.

But while the ATO is experimenting with Web services under its Change Program, and could eventually move to adopt a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), Heather says he’s sceptical about the some of the promises being held up for SOAs.

“I think some part of the hype will probably be realised, but I don’t think it will completely revolutionise the way we all interoperate,” Heather says. “I’m sceptical about the sort of free market of services that is sometimes mooted. That, you know, you’ve got to reach out into a free marketplace of services where your agents meet other agents and accomplish things for you. But I think that we will be able to have more flexible systems, have some more reusable components, and that even inside organisations it will be quite useful.”

The three-year $350 million Change Program is aimed at helping ATO provide easier, cheaper and more personalised interactions, information and advice for individuals, business and tax agents.

Part of that work has involved exposing ATO’s back office systems to tax payers and tax agents through portals to increase the range of functionality on offer. The work is a significant part of the “easier, cheaper and more personalised thrust” of the Change Program.

Heather says ATO also has conducted some successful experiments with some of the basic protocol standards, and exposed a Web service standard for interaction with taxpayers and tax agents through its e-activity statement application.

The hope is that agencies across the Commonwealth will reach agreement on an interoperability standard that will provide an opportunity to streamline some cross-government processing around issues like identification of people. AGIMO (Australian Government Information Management Office) is sponsoring the effort.

“We just keep looking for opportunities to drive value out of this. If we’ve got some basic agreements about how we’re going to interoperate, then we can start looking for business value to build on top of those standards,” he says.

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