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HMRC is transforming itself into "the most digitally advanced tax administration in the world"

For the past several years HMRC has been updating its legacy IT estate, while also making it easier for customers to interact with the organisation. Brigid McBride is the acting director in charge of this digital transformation, and admitted that some of the IT is still “a bit creaky.”

“[We have] a big IT estate, [and] some of it’s a bit creaky… We’re on the path to moving that to the cloud… There are lots of big IT changes that we now make frequently,” she said, speaking at today’s Public Sector ICT Summit in London. “We’re taking on DevOps.”

HMRC is in charge of all forms of taxation in the UK: it collects almost £575 billion and handles 2.3 billion customers every year, while serving 50 million customers – many of whom are now self-employed.

The changing makeup of the UK’s workforce towards self-employment has had a significant effect on HMRC. More than 92 per cent of its customers now file Self-Assessment tax returns online; on its recent deadline day in January, it handled 17 returns each second.

The organisation has been galvanised by these changes: it wants to become “the most digitally advanced tax administration in the world.” In the process it is adopting new technologies and processes like robotics, APIs and microservices.

It’s now 18 months since HMRC set up its Automation Delivery Centre, which last week delivered its 10 millionth robotic transaction. These robotics can take many forms, from chatbots to its virtual assistant (‘Ruth’), but all are based around automating systems to increase employee efficiency.

Non-IT staff might have been intimidated by the use of robotics, or have feared for their jobs; but McBride says that HMRC was “crushed by their enthusiasm.” Key, she thinks, has been the ADC accepting peoples’ suggestions and working on many small projects that they care about.

The next step from automation is to bring in artificial intelligence; this, and machine learning, is “very much in its infancy at HMRC,” said McBride, “but we see a really big use around some of our compliance processes [and] really complicated tax cases.” She thinks that they could be especially useful to combat fraud.

The intent behind all of these changes is to make it is easy to do business with HMRC. The organisation is now on social media and mobile by default; a lot of customers use phones and tablets to do reasonably complex tax tasks. It’s also looking at voice, both as a form of ID and for processing services.

“The pace of change isn’t slowing – customer demands are growing and the customer base is changing as more people become self-employed. Are we building organisations that can adapt?” McBride asked delegates.

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