The recent crash of the ATO's website and online systems has provided business owners with a valuable lesson in how to minimise the risk of being caught off guard.
A catastrophic failure saw the ATO's website and its Tax Agent Portal taken offline for several days, and initial speculation suggested that a large amount of data may have been lost.
High-profile failures such as this offer SME owners valuable insights into how to protect their own businesses in the event of similar disasters.
“The ATO website, and especially the Tax Agent Portal, is a very important tool for any accounting practice at the moment, to be able to verify data for clients; to perform lodgments; [and] to be able to give clients updates as to their account balances, whether they've made payments or received payments,” explains accountant Alexander Laureti of LMS Advisory.
“For a firm like mine, we're very active in helping clients manage their cash flow … so if we're not able to access things like the Tax Agent Portal, it has basically taken away the ability for us to give real-time information.”
However, rather than having his business come to a complete standstill because of factors beyond his control, Alexander says his firm has deliberately avoided placing too much emphasis on online systems.
“Everything being digital, everything being online, is relatively new, but our business has been around for many years, so there was the initial distrust of computers and the online services, and being able to access everything online,” he says, adding that this culture has continued in the form of a desire to not rely solely on digital or web-based copies of key documents.
“A lot of people rely on the ATO website for things like PAYG withholding calculations and tax tables. Because in this day and age people are used to having everything at our finger tips and online, not everyone thinks to download the latest tax tables or download all this advice and great information and resources that are on the ATO website, to take a hard copy for yourself in case your internet connection is down or in case the ATO website is down.”
Alexander suggests that for time-strapped business owners, the temptation can be to place all your eggs in one basket for efficiency's sake. But this can leave you exposed should something unforeseen, like a major outage, occur.
“I think it's important not to be too reliant on information from one source,” says Alexander.
“For a lot of people, the example that I gave about tax tables, they might have a payroll solution where they have, for example, MYOB or Xero or another provider that is calculating their payroll for them. Those services won't be reliant on the ATO website or the Tax Agent Portal to provide the services they have.”
He adds: “If you're not completely reliant on one source, then you will not be affected as much if that source disappears. Using the all the resources that are out there [is a wise decision].”