I can’t say this any better than Mark O’Neill already has, plus he’s linked to a couple of things I said after my Romania trip so we’ll get in a loop if I paraphrase what he’s said. But in essence … it’s about exposing your “website” so that others can build a better one, about opening up using web services. It’s got to be the right thing to do, for the commercial players as well as us in government (because we know that other commercial players will offer up our services far more effectively than we will).
Mark goes on with “I guess that tax submission Web Services are the “getStockQuote” of the e-Government world, but wouldn’t it be useful if applications like Peachtree Accounting or Sage Instant Accounts could file tax information using Web Services. The government then concentrates on the provision of services. This would mean – no searching through a government website, no ALT-tabbing [i’ve forgotten what the Mac equivalent is!] between an accounting package and a government portal, and less hassle all round” … and he’s right (except on the Mac bit, for the most part we haven’t figured out how to support those, which is not good).
Some third party packages already handle tax preparation, but with varying degrees of success. I don’t have the figures for the paper world but something like 10% of online tax returns come in from sites that are not the Inland Revenue – but those people have had to go and build the entire application process from scratch. Wouldn’t it be better if the Revenue posted the rules as a web service which could be called up by anyone with an appropriate site. That would mean the 3rd party puts some effort into the design for capturing the data, but it gets validated using a single government-issued rulebook (online), saving a lot of effort all round. Would it be more than 10% if that were the case? Maybe. But, that said, target #1 is to get vast numbers of people wanting to send their tax in via the Internet, because unless that happens not many people will think it worthwhile to do the hard work on the interface.