IRS is focused on ensuring that tech modernization efforts are felt by the consumer in their everyday interactions with the agency, and the agency is relying on industry partnerships to help take systems and solutions to the next level.
“It’s all about all modernization all the time,” Deputy Associate Chief Information Officer for Applications Development Craig Drake told the Government Technology & Services Coalition’s IRS Days 2022, underscoring how transforming foundational IRS technology makes meaningful improvement in taxpayer services.
That includes the child tax credit portal that debuted in June, the agency’s role in helping to deliver three economic impact payments starting in March 2020, and the multilingual initiatives that have helped make some IRS forms, publications, tools, social media, and website information more accessible – and have heightened the agency’s interest in machine translation products.
While IRS hasn’t “been able to retire legacy authentication yet,” Drake said they are “looking to retire legacy authentication at end of July 2022.”
“Servers that we run software on are state-of-the-art platforms – we’re not running on 30-year-old systems,” said Submission Processing Director Steve Lambourne. Database languages are kept up-to-date and those environments are maintained using modernized tools.
But although IRS is still using legacy technology the agency is “not moving forward with them,” he stressed. With goals of very strong infrastructure and very high resiliency, the agency is “keeping current and ready for modernization, partnering with different vendors and visions.”
“We talk a lot with vendors about where applications are and where they need to go,” Lambourne said.
IRS recently celebrated the 100 millionth transaction in online accounts. In one year, the number of people who came to view online accounts doubled from 9 million to 18 million. Additionally, 99 percent of people unenrolling for child tax credits did so online instead of calling the IRS.
“We have a very strong relationship with our vendor community,” said Eric Markow, director of the Web Applications Program Management Office. “Our goal and vision is to be able to provide secure digital services to all taxpayers. We are very passionate about making sure that the taxpayer data remains secure.”
“We also have a vision that taxpayers can go to one place on IRS.gov to find all the services they need,” he said. IRS.gov online accounts just marked five years in existence; right now, taxpayers can view account balance, make payments, make payment plans with more streamlined information about eligibility, view tax records, and view digital notices. Last year, a new tax professionals account was added.
“More and more people are going to online services to do business with the IRS,” Markow said. “This is a very big growth area in the IRS.” He specifically noted a trend of more people wanting to do business from their mobile devices.
Soon the first multilingual online account will debut in Spanish, with more available languages in the future. Moving applications to the cloud will also allow more rapid deployment of new features to taxpayers. And IRS is also looking ahead at ways to provide new digital communication tools for secure online messaging – a virtual assistant, accessible with an online account, will allow taxpayers to get answers without contacting a live agent but will be able to escalate the query to a live assistant if the robot can’t answer.
Markow said the web applications team would also like to pursue building an online account for businesses.
“We have so much to do as we look ahead,” he said. “We’re very, very excited about continuing to build and expand what we offer to our taxpayers.”
Enterprise Case Management Director Julie Robbins said there are 640 unique distinct business process that use some sort of case management, and over the years as systems have been built up one central challenge has been silos with limited integration. It’s possible that a taxpayer could call in and the customer service representative won’t be able to see all parts of the taxpayer’s account.
Robbins is looking forward to a common case management solution to simplify and offer more consistency between solutions. “Taxpayer perspective is going to be critical and improve customer service exponentially,” she said.
Opening digital channels in a transition from paper-based processes will “integrate with the other great things that are happening across the service,” Robbins added, noting the need to modernize legacy data solutions on the back end.
In July 2020, Pega was selected to power the IRS’ new Enterprise Case Management system. IRS is in the process now of standing up an enterprise case repository using MarkLogic.
“We’ve accomplished quite a bit from a modernization perspective in a relatively short amount of time,” Robbins said.
She said it was important that the case management system avoids having central platform or multiplies the number of applications in use as IRS looks to simplify. A key motivation is driving toward the “retirement of systems – we have to start to unplug some of those things on the back end.”
A common case management solution is creating “a consolidated approach,” Robbins stressed, not “a refresh and renew.”