IRS Committed To Online Services (OLS) Initiative
By James Stork
VP of Education, Drake Software
Look for the Internal Revenue Service to continue to expand its use of online services to meet the growing divide between the demand for services and ongoing budget reductions.
At the IRS pre-filing season meeting, on September 17, the Return Preparer Office of the IRS noted that it is falling short in seven areas as evidenced by feedback received on customer satisfaction surveys:
- TIN Matching: Practitioners need to be able to check TINs for new customers quickly.
- Power of Attorney: How can practitioners start working on a TP account immediately to resolve issues?
- Paper Forms and Instructions: “There is apparently no way to order forms.”
- Search: “I typed in 'instructions' and your website doesn't know what I am talking about.”
- Limited phone assistance: “After punching 9 million buttons it says sorry…call back later.”
- Lack of electronic options: “I could not access an electronic transcript of my last year's tax return.”
- Cannot setup installment agreement online: “…getting a new PIN is too difficult…no way…too cumbersome…error messages.”
The agency notes that in addition to a declining budget and rising demand, the agency needs to change in order to meet the shifting expectations of consumers. They also need to make the customer experience more consistent across phone, web, and other communication channels.
To accomplish this, the IRS has launched the On Line Services (OLS) initiative. Reporting to the Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement and drawing on expertise from the private sector, the initiative is driven by a small group of fewer than 70 technical employees who have a singular focus on use of the web and other technologies to operate more efficiently.
Key programs include new content across the IRS.Gov web site.
- Google search capabilities
- Real-time access to account information by consumers
- Improved user experience with more transparency of taxpayer refunds and returns
- Better access to online forms
- Systems for taxpayers to directly communicate with the IRS
- Provide access to data, content and web services for tax preparers
- Expanded use of mobile platforms
- Easier methods to make payments and payment arrangements
A conceptual version of a taxpayer’s online account, or portal, on the IRS.Gov web site looks like this:
(CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE)
The IRS is already claiming some successes in the initiative. Thousands of pages of content have been consolidated, restructured, and re-published across 16 content channels. There has been a substantial reduction in “no result” functions. The agency has noted that in 2013 nearly 25 percent of web traffic has been from mobile devices and that consumers have downloaded 1.6 million apps from the IRS.Gov site. In addition, the agency claims that the site has accelerated refunds while at the same time detecting thousands of instances of potential identity theft.
Ongoing and continuing efforts toward a digital future include planning and prioritization, scalable solutions, and an emphasis on content, user experience and usability. The agency will utilize the expertise of third parties, streamlining the development of online applications, and emphasizing mobile apps.
Source: Internal Revenue Service at http://www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov/userfiles/file/Full-Report/Most-Serious-Problems-Demand-For-Online-Services.pdf