What we can learn from the ATO’s disastrous downtime

What we can learn from the ATO’s downtime

Written on April 27, 2017 at 09:46 AM By Emily Gam

Since last year the Australian Tax Office (ATO) has been struggling with outages on its online portal that has been causing major grief for accountants resulting in serious productivity and financial losses.

The last outage only being days ago and disastrously occurring the day after scheduled maintenance. That’s right, the ATO had scheduled downtime over the Easter long weekend and when everyone came back to work, they still couldn’t access the site.

So to find a silver lining, is there anything we can learn from the downtime of the ATO’s online portal?

Always have a plan B

The most significant downtime for the ATO came in December of last year, when a storage hardware meltdown caused widespread failure of systems.

When the hardware failed it should have automatically failed over to the backup systems, but in this case the ATO’s backup systems failed as well causing a catastrophic outage.

Commissioner of Taxation, Chris Jordan, labelled the saga as the “worst unplanned system outage in recent memory”.

Even though in this case the ATO did have a plan B, they weren’t monitoring and conducting testing on the backups. This also highlights the need for a comprehensive Disaster Recovery Plan which provides clear guidelines for restoring the data to working order. The majority of the downtime for the ATO was actually restoring their data as Mr Jordan states The failure of our backup arrangements meant that restoration and resumption of data and services has been very complex and time-consuming.”

Communicate with your clients

Compounding the disaster for the ATO over this time was their inability to communicate clearly and transparently with their users. You just have to do a quick Twitter search and you will find the hundreds of exasperated accountants trying to get answers out of the ATO.

The lesson here is pretty simple, people get angry when they feel like they are not being listened to and kept in the dark. As hard as it can be, sometimes the best approach is to admit your mistake and work your hardest to rectify it.

Don’t let your technology age gracefully

We’ve previously highlighted the effect old and out-dated technology can have on your business and it seems the ATO is not immune to this either.

ATO assistant commissioner, Venetia Blackman has previously touched on the ATO’s aging infrastructure, “We have done quite a bit of work to try and stabilise the portal, but it is aged infrastructure. At the time it was released it was the ‘you beaut’ thing. That’s a long time ago. Unfortunately we find ourselves in a place where we haven’t maintained that platform to keep it contemporary.”

Downtime will cost you dearly

In simple terms the extended ATO downtime has cost accountants time and money.  They haven’t been able to complete work and have lost money both through revenue and employees productivity.

Even though the ATO is an extreme case, the title rings true, any downtime in your business will cost you dearly. If your staff are having to sit around and twiddle their thumbs because they can’t login or are waiting for updates your business is quite literally pouring money down the drain.

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