Expert system supports new legislation
Mark Burt, Project Manager for Expert Systems at the Australian Taxation Office, explains how they used XpertRule to develop a Baby Bonus Expert System
The Australian Taxation Office encourages as many clients as possible to use self-help. The use of expert systems is a key component in achieving this.
We recently used an expert system application on our website to enable users to determine their eligibility and entitlements to a new tax offset, the baby bonus.
The challenge was to provide accurate and consistent advice to clients about the baby bonus. The baby bonus legislation provides for a payment through the taxation system to help families who have had a baby after 30 June 2001 and we expected this Commonwealth government initiative to generate a large number of enquiries at the busiest time of the year for our public enquiry areas.
Using an online expert system application applying business rules to information provided by the user, we are able to achieve a high level of consistency in advice. The web-based expert system application offers an immediate self-help and education solution for external users and is a resource for our staff answering telephone or counter enquires. The application is available initially for use online and later as a downloadable tool. It enables individuals to carry out their own calculations and check their eligibility based on their own circumstances.
The development of the application took three months end-to-end, including establishing specifications, testing, useability testing, clearances and publishing. Implementation as a web application was achieved using an interface developed specifically to meet our strict web design and development standards.
In the first two months of usage the baby bonus URL had 27,573 requests, and was in the top one hundred most frequently requested pages on our website. There was minimal critical feedback.
The high usage and low critical feedback suggest that there is high user acceptance of this expert system application.
We have therefore concluded that the use of the expert system application offered a timely, convenient, consistent, and accurate solution to manage the enquiries generated from the introduction of the baby bonus.
With a rapidly increasing number of decision-making processes to be completed within short time frames, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) needs effective software to assist in developing expert systems to expedite these processes.
We have been using XpertRule to develop an expert system to assist in applying policy to requests from tax practitioners for additional time to lodge their client’s income tax returns.
Expert systems technology was introduced to bring consistency to the decision making process, as well as speed it up through semi-automation. We wanted to ensure that, with a given set of circumstances, each practitioner would be given the same decision about their application. Links are being tested between the expert system and the ATO’s mainframe so that complete automation may be achieved for the majority of applications.
We plan to have systems deployed on the intranet and/or Internet sites for easy access to all staff and/or clients. A key strategy of the ATO is to encourage and enable as many clients as possible to use self-help. The use of expert systems is a key component in achieving this.
Improved objective decision making
Extensive analysis was done with subject matter experts to develop the business rules before building the expert system. As there is a significant element of subjectivity in this kind of decision-making, the most difficult part of developing the business rules was determining what factors to take into consideration when making a decision.
The most obvious one was the reason given. A comprehensive list of reasons used was compiled from archived applications and each was given a weighting. Tolerance levels were set to categorise the reasons as “disaster”, “exceptional”, “normal” or “trivial” depending on the total weighting score.
The decision tree is branched at this point, and only additional relevant information is requested. For example, if the reason is “disaster,” then as long as the requested extension date is before the end of the financial year, the extension will be granted.
Other factors taken into consideration are:
The expert system was tested in one branch office and a post implementation review recommended national implementation. Work is underway to refine and simplify the business rules to achieve better and more equitable outcomes.
Information is currently entered by ATO staff working from written requests. On completion of a case, XpertRule generates a standard letter for the operator to mail to the practitioner.
Development is underway to capture the information needed by the expert system using an electronic form. The practitioner will fill in the form on their PC and transmit it to the ATO over a secure link. The data is then imported by the expert system to make the decision.
Operators will only need to enter any data that is stored on other ATO business systems. On completion, the case will be transmitted to a workflow management system for archiving.