Technological Change Committee

Minutes of the Technological Change Sub-Committee Meeting

May 23, 2019

BETWEEN THE CANADA REVENUE AGENCY AND THE UNION OF TAXATION EMPLOYEES HELD ON MAY 23, 2019

PARTICIPANTS

Management   Union
Michael Honcoop for Gillian Pranke   
Gordon Majcher
Silvano Tocchi 
Debbie Greene for Karen Butcher 
Tessie Jokinen
Roger Houde
Tony Manconi 
Kathleen Butler for Erin Mostovac
Caroline Lemieux-Theoret    
Brian Oldford
Josh Atwood
Greg Krokosh
Mathieu Juneau

OPENING REMARKS

The Regional Vice-President, Atlantic Region and Union Co-Chair welcomed the participants and thanked the Committee members for taking the time to discuss these issues. He mentioned that a meeting would take place in June with Collections and Verification Branch (CVB) to discuss outstanding issues with the Collection Verification Workload Management System (CVWMS). The union co-chair also asked about the T1 system redesign feedback that was submitted to management. Union-Management Relations (UMR) commented that a response was shared with the union in January 2019 and agreed to resend the response. He also commented about the necessity to create a spreadsheet to maintain and track all commitments tabled at the sub-committee meetings. The union agreed to share a template that could be used for this purpose. The Director General, Call Centre Services Directorate (DG, CCSD) agreed to explore the feasibility. 

The Union Co-Chair, asked about the new technological change ‘’Charlie the Chatbot’’. The Director General, Digital Services Directorate (DG, DSD) explained that this device is an experiment that was launched, as a pilot this filing season, to answer questions on the new climate action incentive (CAI) payment. It has a form of artificial intelligence that recognizes how questions are framed and responds by pre-formatted responses. The success is being monitored to determine the quality of the appropriate responses provided to the questions and the queries recognition. We are also assessing it as an avenue to explore as an interpretive device for static content available. The results will confirm the probability to deploy this tool more widely but no plans have been made. The DG, Technology and Business Intelligence Directorate (DG, TABI) explained that the next step for Chatbot is tied to Employer Taxable Benefits to help with the contained rules. The Union Co-Chair asked if Chatbot is taking away jobs from the call centre agents The DG, DSD explained that the model is the way static content is navigated on the website allowing smart searches and it has no impact on the call centres. As broader artificial intelligence strategies are being pushed in the CRA, updates will be provided. Chatbot is expected to be part of the fall update.

Action Item:

  • UMR will resend the January response regarding the T1 feedback for the union.
  • The DG, DSD will provide an update about the Chatbot at the next meeting.
  • The DG, CCSD will look into the feasibility of using the union’s commitment template.

Contact Centre Transformation Initiative

The DG, CCSD stated that the Assessment, Benefit and Service Branch (ABSB) successfully migrated its call centres to the new Hosted Contact Centre Service (HCCS) platform for the Business Enquiries sites, the Benefit Enquiries and the Individual Tax Enquiries. The CRA continues to monitor and calibrate the performance of the HCCS platform. Although intermittent issues continue to be experienced, the CRA is working with its partners to resolve them.

The Union Co-Chair asked approximately how many web forms were completed for system or agents issues. The DG, CCSC said that the number is unknown but IT is revisiting the issues with agents. The number of incidents are dropping as the system stabilises.

The DG, TABI explained that the CRA continues to work collaboratively with Shared Services Canada (SSC) and IBM on the new HCCS technology. Although multiple delays attributed to the multiple reconsiderations of the migration date, the Debt Management Call Centre (DMCC) successfully migrated to the HCCS solution on April 8, 2019. This was the second attempt, as the previous cutover weekend activities were halted on March 3, 2019. The testing over that weekend produced unfavorable results and the decision was made to revert back to the legacy system.

HCCS was tested in different testing environments to ensure that the solution would behave as designed and expected based on the business requirements for the DMCC. The DG, TABI explained that once crucial defects were resolved, the decision was made to migrate to HCCS. In preparation for implementation, DMCC continued to work in collaboration with SSC and IBM partners to ensure a seamless transition to HCCS. The Contact Centre Transformation Section was onsite at the three DMCC sites along with the program area for normalization. This was to ensure that the sites had sufficient support for the users as they adapted to using the new solution. Based on the recommendations provided during the Resource Management Committee meeting last Fall, CVB presented a Progress Report where approval was being requested to carry over the lapse from 2018-19 to 2019-20 as well as an approval to extend the project to 2022.

Action Item:

  • Both parties agreed to close this topic and address any issues at the Call Centre Committee.

COLLECTIONS VERIFICATION WORKLOAD MANAGEMENT SYSTEM (CVWMS)

The DG, TABI explained that the union provided a list of items raised on behalf of their members. A written response was provided to the union in preparation for the upcoming June 2019 meeting but also to provide input and updates as to where the issues stand. None of these items were new and were previously raised through the applicable channels.  The DG, TABI stated that the Collections Verification Workload Management System (CVWMS) launched, on October 22 2018, due to the strong collaboration between CVB, the regions and several supporting partners such as Human Resources Branch and Public Affairs Branch (PAB). Regular engagement sessions with Headquarters (HQ) and field users continues post implementation to seek their input and feedback on the new platform and reassure them about upcoming fixes and enhancements. Management is aware of the system issues and a number of problem fixes have been implemented post release to address some of the workarounds required at the time of implementation with further fixes, enhancements, and change requests being prioritized going forward. For example, some workarounds were eliminated with fixes implemented as part of the February 2019 release weekend.

The second release of CVWMS is scheduled for October 2019. Customs Collections and Tax Treaties workloads will be integrated into CVWMS, leading to the decommissioning of the Collections Verification Inventory Subsystem (CVIS). The DG, TABI explained that the project is currently in the replanning stage and looking at scope, schedule and cost. The project will return to the CRA’s governance in the fall of 2019.

The Regional Vice-President, Rocky Mountains Region strongly encourages management to understand the risks of ergonomics issues when this sort of transition happens as they are always presented as seamless. The DG, TABI explained that instructions were offered to help and additional changes are coming in the October release allowing the employees to change the font.

The Union Co-Chair asked if anything can be done in the interim or if any accommodations can be offered. The DG, TABI recommends to raise the issues with the adaptive technology in FAB and ITB to work directly with the individual to find the right technology to support the agent.

The local president, Halifax asked if a time code was provided when the system is not working since many of their members were asked to bury the time. The DG, TABI said that the Program had an allocation for dropping productivity and the non-filer would normally speak to that but the specifics will be addressed at the upcoming meeting in June 2019.

The Union Co-Chair asked for an explanation about the agile approach. The DG, TABI explained the waterfall way where things cascade step by step. In the agile world, the detailed requirements are not done as one big document but the continual cycle is broken down into user stories where we can see results every 4 weeks.

Action Item:

  • The DG, TABI will address these specific questions at the upcoming June 2019 meeting about CVWMS.

DIGITAL MAILROOM PROJECT (DMP)

The Director General, Administration Directorate (DG, AD) said that following the last update, the Invitation to Qualify (ITQ) closed on January 9, 2019. A total of six proposals were received in response to the ITQ after being posted for 75 days. At the end of the evaluation process (Step 1) there was one qualified vendor.

The DG, AD stated that the project is currently progressing through the next step, the Review and Refine Requirements (RRR) phase. The intent of the RRR is to produce a set of detailed requirements that will form the basis of a Statement of Work that is technically sound and complete. The RRR will allow engagements between the 3 initial on-boarder and the selected supplier to define and refine the final requirements. 

Alongside the procurement process, the project continues its engagement with the 3 initial on-boarders. Since the November 2018 meeting, the Business Number Registration process in ABSB will join the Charities Information Returns process in LPRAB and Service Complaints process in SIIB as our third early on boarder. In addition, Individual Processing (T1/T3 Accounting correspondence and T1 Adjustments Correspondence processes) in ABSB will commence work for onboarding to DMP. The DG, AD said that they are not in a position at this time to determine any potential impacts DMP may have on the CRA workforce profile of onboarding programs and supporting functions such as the mailrooms until at least spring 2020. The DG, AD said that he hopes to award a contract before October 2019. As the project continues to progress, we will continue to keep the unions informed of any new developments.

The Union Co-Chair asked how long it would take to get everything up and running once the contract is awarded. The DG, AD said that initially, the mailroom would continue to do the mail sorting and continue to manage and control the quality of the work. The union asked if the mailroom staff would receive training and how would employees control the intake. The DG, AD said that a strong communication strategy is being finalised and will be in place prior to commence the work. As such, the focus will remain on communication, support and outreach, including key messaging and standard operating procedures (SOP).   

Considering there is only one potential vendor, the union asked if the vendor would be awarded the contract. The DG, AD said that it is most likely if they meet all the requirements and if the price is good.

Action Item:

  • The DG, AD will provide an update at the next meeting.

ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION (RPA)

The Director, Horizontal Integration Directorate (HID) stated that management provided the union with information on a Robotic Process Automation (RPA) proof of concept at the May 31, 2018 meeting. As the proof of concept was completed in the spring of 2018 for the Revenue Ledger (RL) program for future use in a production environment, the request for proposal (RFP) closed in March 2019 and the contract should be awarded later this year. The production pilot implementation for the RL production monitoring process is targeted for the fall of 2019. The Director, HID, said that there will be no HR impacts for this RL process as the RPA provides an additional tool to automate internal processes and relieve employees from routine, repetitive tasks therefore enabling them to focus on more value-added, and rewarding activities. Moving forward, ABSB will continue to drive the roadmap and onboarding strategy for the branch through clear governance procedures. She mentioned that HR impacts are unknown at this time but management’s view would be to realign employees to other work in the RL. She will continue to monitor and provide updates as we move forward in the adoption of RPA.

The union asked if management had examples of the work that was replaced by automation. The director, HID, said that the proof of concept identified the duplicate transactions, pulling out reports, creating folder with the files to be updated. It has the ability to make sure the work is ready for the employees as they start their day.

Action Item:

  • The DG, HID will provide an update on RPA at the next meeting.   

CHARITIES IT MODERNIZATION PROJECT (CHAMP)

The DG, Charities Directorate (DG, CD) stated that in the Federal Budget 2014, the CRA was allocated funding of $23M to reduce the administrative burden and provide improved services to the charitable sector. The system was designed to provide Electronic services providing organizations with the ability to apply for charitable registration online and registered charities with the ability to file annual information returns and complete certain account update activities online. A modernized back-end system, a new case management system and desktop tool was put in place to help employees process case work more efficiently. A reporting functionality was developed to ensure data collected is available for use by the Directorate, the charitable sector, and the public. An updated ability to display public data about registered charities on the CRA's web pages is also available.

CHAMP, conceived as a five-year project, was originally supposed to be launched in November 2018 but as it got closer to the launch date, an extra six months was needed to provide additional time for integration and testing ensuring the best possible roll-out of the new system. The DG, CD is pleased to report that while the “official” launch date is June 1, the soft launch was on May 13, 2019.

Charities still have the option to file their returns on paper if they choose, just like individuals do, but the hope is to offer a digital channel to file online. He also specified that there are no plans to reduce the size of the permanent workforce, and there has been no reduction to date.

The Union Co-Chair asked about the number of employees keying in Summerside. The DG, CD stated that there are two peak periods in the year, March and December. The number of employees fluctuate between six and 15 determinate employees. The union asked if the DG, CD could speak to issues identified by members and if they were ergonomic related. The DG, CD stated that the fonts on the screens are being looked into. He also welcomed any feedback from UTE members.

PRE-MATCH

The DG, TABI stated that pre-match introduction would have been given during the Technological Change T1SR updates. Overall, the objective remains to manage the intake within the allocated resources, while respecting service and quality standards. The regions have been nimble and resourceful in ensuring that they have the right number of people with the right skillset to deal with the workload. Although some capacity challenges were reported by the Quebec Region, the situation seems to be under control now.

The current workforce is a mix of experienced employees with a portable skillset from similar programs, and new employees. The experienced employees come from Collections Verification matching, and other Assessment Verification Division programs. Very little training is required to bring these employees up to speed in the workflows. However, 1/3 of the workforce hired to do this work is new to the CRA and required some basic training. There were some system-related challenges that may have created a high fall-out rate immediately after the conversion. A number of fixes have been implemented and some more are planned for mid – May 2019. Given that, the logic has been improved and there are few, if any, historical data references available, projecting intake remains a challenge. He also stated that current inventory volumes are high but there is no immediate concern about the processing standards. The program continues to monitor the situation and the regions have been agile and have moved quickly to address any inventory build-up. After this filing season, an analysis will be conducted on the impact of pre-match activities on the post assessment matching program (post assessment matching work is completed in all processing centres and National Verification and Collections Centres (NVCC), whereas pre-assessment matching work is being completed in the processing centres only). The DG, TABI stated that he doesn’t expect that the post-assessment intake will be materially impacted because new slips have been added for pre-match activities that were not available in the past and the work that was done as a post assessment activity in the past represented a very small percentage of the overall intake.

The union asked about the employees whom had, their duties removed or partly removed and if they were term or indeterminate employees. The DG, TABI answered that term employees received contract extensions to do pre-match work and there is a fair number of shared work descriptions for some of the processing work but it was contained within their own work description.

ELECTRONIC REQUEST FOR INFORMATION (e-RFI/e-Fax)

The DG, TABI explained that responding to Request For Information (RFI) by paper has become a huge red tape burden for financial institutions. The current process requires that they print documents that are already digitized to send to the CRA by mail or courier.  A pilot for digital responses to RFI’s was deployed between the CRA and the Toronto-Dominion Bank in October 2018 using the Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) technology. Between October 23, 2018 and March 15 2019, TD has sent 5400 packages representing 5-50 pages (per package) that the financial institution no longer has to print, box up and ship to CRA by mail or courier. Discussions are ongoing with CIBC and BMO to on-board them in the coming fiscal year. A permanent Managed File Transfer (MFT) product was procured in late 2018 and is being configured as a result of Budget 2019 legislation. Effective January 1, 2020, RFI’s can be sent digitally by CRA. The requirements for this feature will need to be developed. The impact on employees with MFT is unknown at this time as it is intended for a business demographic that does not have access to CRA’s secure portals due to authentication limitations.

As the CRA continues to incur 11,000,000 inbound faxes annually, he also explained that the e-Fax initiative has no major outward facing benefit, and it eliminates the “busy” signal resulting in the taxpayer resending a fax multiple times. A collections insolvency program pilot was deployed on November 14, 2018, and showed immediate results. As of March 8, 2019, the pilot workload has received 6,300 digitized packages representing approximately 125,000 paper fax pages. CVB is currently evaluating the feasibility for T2 Corporate Assessing Review; GST/HST Post Assessing; Trust Accounts Exam; and Assessment and Verification workloads. The DG, TABI said that CVB does not anticipate any employee impacts with this initiative and faxes will continue to be triaged, sorted, screened and purged within the FileNet application.

REFILE

The Director General, Individual Returns Directorate (DG, IRD) said that ReFILE is an online service that allows individuals and EFILE service providers to electronically transmit to the CRA, adjustments for income tax and benefit returns, using certified NETFILE and EFILE software. In addition to EFILE service providers, taxpayers will also have the opportunity to correct any omissions on their personal income tax and benefits return, using the same software products in which they used to file their original submission. Since the last update to the committee in November 2017, the ReFILE service is now mandatory for all software products certified by the CRA. For the 2018 tax filing year, CRA received 400,000 amended tax returns from current and prior years and this will keep growing as the peak period approaches. She also stated that it would take three years before the new service will be fully integrated as many reassessments are for prior years where the service was not mandatory. Two million requests which result in approximately 1.5 million reassessments are received each year.

As the year goes by, the technology behind the system will be perfected resulting in less manual intervention. Inventories in T1 adjustments are extremely high in Tax Centres (TC) and the system is assisting in meeting the service standard. The DG, IRD stated that there would be no more technological updates for Refile as the technology is fully developed.  Background changes required to improve the taxpayer experience and to reduce manual intervention (currently approximately 50%) will be undertaken over the next few years. We will keep you posted on these efforts.

Action Item:

  • Both parties agreed to close this topic but to provide an update on any upcoming background changes.

BENEFITS SYSTEM RENEWAL PROJECT

The Director, Benefit Program Directorate (BPD) stated that the Benefits System Renewal Project (BSRP) is being modernized and upgraded with more efficient technology to ensure the uninterrupted delivery of benefit payments and services. The implementation is targeted for October 2019. It will provide a solid foundation allowing the CRA to continue to respond to opportunities for growth in program and service delivery. The Director, BPD stated that most of the system changes are not visible to users; however, there are some screen improvements and minor changes to procedures. TC visits have been scheduled in May 2019 to provide field staff with a Project update and to begin discussions with training representatives to develop the training strategy. Training on the revised screens and processes will be provided during regular working hours, in advance of implementation. In addition, issue coordinators will be engaged to assist reporting any technological issues post implementation to HQ.

The union asked if BSRP was presented at Tech Change in the past. The Director, BPD said that the project development began in 2012 and implementation has been deferred a few times, which would explain the time elapsed from the previous update.

Action Item:

  • UMR will provide the date of the previous update made at Tech Change.

DIGITAL SERVICES strategy

The DG, DSD explained the Interoperability for Digital Services. As part of Budget 2018, resources were allocated for the CRA to continue to mature its digital service capabilities including an allocation to improve the interoperability of its applications with a Centralized Event Processor. This initiative will provide all of CRA’s digital applications with the capability to recognize an event in one system and trigger an action in another. This three year project will deliver a Centralized Event Processor (CEP), a new storage for events that will allow the CRA to improve business intelligence and the development of Application Programming Interface (API). He also said that the high level requirements are being gathered by the project team and IT is evaluating the various technical options available for acquiring a CEP product.

The DG, DSD gave a second update on the Proof of Concept (PoC) called Verified.Me. He said that the CRA conducted a proof of concept to test a new block chain enabled service that would allow users to share data attributes, including their digital identity, in a secure environment. This would be achieved by obtaining verifiable information from banks, Telecommunications companies and other provincial/territorial governments. The CRA explored the potential of the Verified.Me solution via three business use cases (replacing CRA’s security code, updating direct deposit and providing proof of income).

He explained that as a result of the PoC, the CRA was able to confirm that the approach was technologically feasible and would provide certain benefits including:

  • Offering a decentralized system allowing users to share their digital identity information more easily and securely;
  • Providing an ecosystem where verified information could be shared between users and organizations easily, privately and securely; and
  • Presenting potential opportunities for digital service delivery to taxpayers.

The CRA is at the forefront of the public sector evaluation of this innovation and will continue with the next steps identified through this work.

The Union Co-Chair asked if these initiatives were implemented or if they were still in the planning stage. The DG, DSD explained that they are at different stages of maturity. The event processor is a new capability for the CRA whereas the block chain work is still exploratory.

Action Item:

  • The DG, DSD will continue to provide an update at the next meeting.

Departmental Accounts Receivable System (DARS) Replacement Project

The DG, TABI shared that the project was supposed to go live April 1, 2019 but Employment Social Development Canada ran into challenges and Major Projects and Investment Board (MPIB) approved the DARS Replacement Project Change Request for a project extension date. Therefore, the new Public Sector Collections and Disbursement (PSCD) system is projected to “go live” date is now April 1, 2020. This new date has significant stakeholder benefits for training and testing.

T3 MODERNIZATION

The DG, IRD mentioned at the previous meeting that the 2018 federal budget proposed two very significant changes for T3 returns. These changes seek to improve the quality of filing and identification information that will assist the CRA in determining tax liabilities and effectively counter aggressive tax avoidance. She explained that in order to process the increased number of returns that is estimated from 300,000 to a total of 2 million annually, there was a need to modernize the system. The CRA began working on the T3 modernization project in the fall of 2018 and it will re-use many of the solutions that were created as part of the T1SR project. These solutions include leveraging the T1 platform for accounting, returns processing, correspondence, electronic filing, and reporting and also leveraging the existing tools to better align the T1 and T3 workloads, in addition to being able to offer electronic services to our T3 filing community. These important changes are currently in the options analysis phase and three releases have been planned for 2021, 2022 and 2023.

Action Item:

  • DG, IRD will provide a progress update at the next meeting.

PIN AUTHENTICATION

The DG, CCSD shared that integrating the use of a Personal Identification Number (PIN) along with the SIN to validate identity would replace the need for detailed account information when calling the Call Centre. The PIN Authentication project is to facilitate simpler and quicker access for callers to access the CRA’s telephone service but also for CRA agents and IVR services. The PIN implementation is scheduled to be in effect in August 2019 to enable callers to create and update a PIN and also use a PIN to confirm their identity using the Interactive Voice Response option. Clients will also be able to create and update a PIN in My Account. The DG, CCSD stated that ABSB would work with PAB to develop a communications strategy to begin actively promote the use of PIN to Canadians.

The union asked if the file would come up to the agent preview once the PIN is entered by the caller. The DG, CCSD answered that the file will be displayed and the agent will not need to go through the normal authentication procedure.

The union recalled that in the past some accounts needing enhanced security required a PIN or secret words used as a note in the system to authenticate the account. The DG, CCSD answered that he is familiar with enhanced security accounts with more stringent authentication procedures but he is not familiar with this process. The DG, CCSD committed to inquire about the past use of PINs at the CRA.

Action Item:

  • The DG, CCSD will look into the past use of PIN authentication.  

CLOSING REMARKS

The Union Co-Chair thanked management for the information and discussions. He appreciated the innovative ideas discussed and the positive rapport at the committee table. He is looking forward to the next meeting on November 21, 2019.

The DG, CCSD commented that the dialogue was productive and thanked everyone for his or her contribution.

Gillian Pranke
Deputy Assistant Commissioner
Assessment and Benefit Services Branch
Canada Revenue Agency

Marc Brière
National President
Union of Taxation Employees
 

Date: 

Date: