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Can the IRS Handle Online Filing Traffic?

Can the IRS Handle Online Filing Traffic?

When taxes fall due on April 15, there is a very real question about how well the Internal Revenue Service – and more to the point, its servers – will be able to handle the traffic.

Late changes to the tax law and the stagnant economy have contributed to a greater-than-usual crush of tax preparation customers at the end of tax season.  That can be critical for preparers who are increasingly making use of e-filing to manage the needs of their customers.

Michael Wright at FCW, a Change to:  a technology management magazine for federal employees,, notes that the filing rituals of the past – getting returns postmarked on April 15 at the latest – has been replaced by the ritual of waiting to see how long it may take to e-file a return.

Web traffic spikes frequently knock down mission-critical systems. In 2007, the online tax preparation service, TurboTax, experienced a spike when tax filers flooded their network, shutting the system down on the most critical tax day of the year. The result: TurboTax lost significant cachet with customers and the future of its service was called into question. More recently, on February 14, 2013, the IRS asked e-file users to check for refunds only once per day as they were slowing down web traffic.

If preparers cannot file on time, their clients will face real financial penalties. Moreover, a disruption of service can change customer behavior. When the website slowed down in February, the IRS saw a significant spike in telephone requests, resulting in wait time for those customers as well.

The web has been around for a long time, you might say, so why is this suddenly such a big issue? Shouldn't federal agencies already know how to deal with this?

No. While the web is now nearly two decades old, with each passing year, the volume of data and complexity of software running on the web increases. So do the devices we use to access it.  Smartphones and tablets are expected to increase web traffic by more than 26 times in the next three years. For federal agencies, this influx of traffic will provide new opportunities to interact and deliver excellent services to the citizen--but it will also present serious challenges to reliability.

Mobile browsers use the same web infrastructure, but require three to four times more processing power from agency servers. That means that each time a user visits a website from a smartphone, the network experiences the same load as three or four users accessing the same page from their desktop computer. The stress is even greater when it comes to mobile apps. The Obama Administration's Digital Government Strategy mandates that all federal agencies develop at least two services for mobile use, and there are already more than 270 federal mobile apps available. With more mobile phones in the world than computers, the challenge is clear: how do agencies meet citizen demands?

by Dave McClure, Industry Writer

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