Technological Change Committee

Minutes of the Technological Change Sub-Committee Meeting

July 29, 2020

Between the Canada Revenue Agency and the Union of Taxation Employees

PARTICIPANTS

Management                                                            Union

Frank Vermaeten                                                      Brian Oldford
Gillian Pranke                                                           Greg Krokosh
Charles Saikaly                                                        Josh Atwood
Silvano Tocchi                                                          Kimberly Koch
Eric Vallée                                                                Mathieu Juneau
Stéphanie Daoust
Wayne Lépine                                                           
Michael Honcoop
Kathleen Butler                                                        
Debora Turner       
Jean-Claude Azar
Caroline Lemieux-Theoret

OPENING REMARKS

The Assistant Commissioner (AC), Assessment, Benefit and Service Branch (ABSB) welcomed the participants and opened by expressing everyone’s collective role during these challenging times.

The UTE Regional Vice-President, Atlantic Region and co-chair of the Technological Change Committee mentioned that UTE had not been made aware of the new initiative within the Charities Modernization Program (CHAMP) and asked that management keep the committee informed as CRA moves forward with initiatives.  

The AC, ABSB agreed to share updates regarding CHAMP at this Committee meeting.

Action Items:

  • LPRAB will share an update regarding CHAMP at the next meeting.  

CALL CENTRES

The DG, Call Centre Service Directorate (CCSD) explained that at the onset of the COVID-19, CRA call centres were facing high call demands which is typical for the peak T1 tax filing period. Call demands spiked dramatically and has remained extremely high. From a technological change perspective, the pandemic is driving the CRA to explore new ways to deliver its mandate. For ABSB call centres, the following potential changes are being explored; Telework for call centre agents; Leveraging the Amazon contact centre infrastructure; Robotic process automation (RPA) and the enhancements to the Hosted Contact Centre Solution (HCCS) such as callback, live chat, and voice authentication.

The DG, CCSD stated that that they were expanding the remote workforce pilot that had started in the fall. The CRA invested in the HCCS when the strain became too much for the current telephone system, to allow it to handle an increased number of concurrent calls, resulting in more callers being able to access the telephone service. In order to address the extreme spike in calls requiring agent assistance, employees from different areas of the CRA volunteered to help answer general questions about the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). These calls started out on the HCCS platform with CERB. However, due to the increased load, it was determined that a second platform was necessary to maintain system stability. In April, a separate phone line on Amazon was launched, along with the CEWS volunteer group. The DG, CCSD stated that moving forward, they will be exploring ways to leverage the use of Robotic Processing Automation.

The UTE Regional Vice-President, Atlantic Region asked why did the CRA had to turn to Amazon.

The DG, CCSD explained that HCCS became unstable and couldn’t handle the requirement. Amazon helped to take the load off.

Action Item:

  • The DG, CCSD will provide an update at the next meeting on the new Amazon platform.

DIGITAL DISABILITY TAX CREDIT (DTC) APPLICATION

The DG, Digital Services Directorate (DSD) explained that this initiative is seeking to improve the way the CRA administers and interprets tax measures for Canadians with disabilities where the ABSB has undertaken the creation of a digital alternative to the paper-based form. The Digital DTC Application will be rolled out in multiple phases. In phase one, the front-end application specifically for medical practitioners with a redesigned flow of dynamic questions, will collect the required information about the individual’s disability. It will be accessible on Canada.ca. The information collected in the application will be stored within the session only, at the end of the flow a PDF form will be generated. The form will then be required to be printed and signed. The form will then be submitted to the Agency using the existing two methods currently available: either via paper mail or by scanning and using Submit Documents in My Account. A target release of February 2021 is estimated. The second phase is at the preliminary stage with no set release date. This phase will allow both the individual and medical practitioner to interact with CRA in a digital space connected to our backend systems. He indicated that developments in this phase would welcome opportunities to streamline manual processes of the form such as making determinations on clear-cut cases and generating confirmation letters, allowing assessors to focus on the complex cases that require their expertise and judgment to make a determination.

The UTE local president, Halifax asked about the stages of progression and release dates.

The DG, DSD stated that February 2021 would release the ability to input and submit the application. He also offered the opportunity to provide a demo at the next meeting.

Action Item:

  • The DG, DSD will provide a demo of the Digital DTC Application at the next meeting.

USE OF MICROSOFT TEAMS

The manager of Client Service Management Directorate, Information Technology Branch (ITB) stated that COVID-19 social distancing measures forced the Agency to work remotely. In order to support this virtual workforce, ITB reviewed all available collaboration tools and ultimately recommended to expedite the availability of the Teams application. Teams facilitates both one-on-one and group conversations via Instant Messaging (IM). Mentoring, collaboration and peer training can also performed by using the screen sharing functionality. The IM, Screen Sharing, Audio and Planner features are available while in a Teams meetings. Microsoft Teams Desktop application was fully deployed by June 8, 2020 for Protected A information. The next phase of the deployment will be for video conferencing up to Protected A scheduled for end of August 2020, followed by Protected B status for Teams features (IM, Screen Sharing, Audio, Planner and Video Conferencing) in November 2020. The manager of ITB mentioned that it is important to note that CRA is using their end state cloud tenant at a Protected A level. Other government departments chose the quick availability of an unclassified temporary cloud tenant provided by SSC. Those government departments will lose availability along with their data once SSC sunsets all the temporary cloud tenants scheduled for end of September 2020.

The UTE Regional Vice-President, Atlantic Region asked about the availability of video conferencing within the teams application and why it cannot be used today.

The manager of ITB stated that the Information management, screen sharing, audio and planner functionality has been available within Teams since it was deployed in May/June. Video conferencing would be available to use as of September 1, 2020. The ITB is currently working with Shared Service Canada (SSC) to test the application as CRA has it own secure remote access network.

The UTE technical advisor asked about the training of teams.

The manager of ITB replied that National IT Training Services team and Microsoft collaborated to create a 60 minute Teams training package. The training has now been adjusted to 90 minutes and sessions has been scheduled in French, and English along with live sessions recorded for self-service and Webcast availability.

The UTE local president, Halifax questioned about the bandwidth usage since the vast majority of the CRA users are using their own network.

The manager of ITB confirmed that as of last month, 29000 employees were using teams and feedback is welcomed.

COLLECTIONS VERIFICATION WORKLOAD MANAGEMENT SYSTEM (CVWMS)

The Director, Technology and Business Intelligence Directorate (TABI) explained that on May 8, 2020 project resources were redirected to onboard the CEWS Collections workload onto the project with a deployment date of July 27, 2020. The project was able to quickly pivot toward the new COVID requirements. As requirements continue to evolve in relation to Canadian Economic measures and supporting the Collection and Verification Branch (CVB) Program priority, additional releases may be required. The new functionality aligns with existing requirements for sub-project 3.1 and planned for 3.2. The project continues to build on the change management strategy used in Release 1 and 2, which focused on communication, training, and stakeholder engagement. The goal was to ensure a shared understanding of the upcoming changes, to facilitate a smooth transition to the new system.

The UTE Regional Vice-President, Atlantic Region asked about the CVWMS newsletter.

The Director, TABI stated that the newsletter webpages are still being used to update the users on the status of CVWMS.

The UTE local president, Halifax asked if any other program would be onboarding to the CVWMS.

The Director, TABI explained that with the CERB and CEWS workloads, future onboarding has been postponed. 

INDIVIDUAL TAX FILLING ASSISTANCE INITIATIVE

The Director, Non-Filer Division (NFD), stated that to assist Canadians with the filing of their income tax return and ensure they are receiving all benefits and credits to which they may be entitled during the COVID-19 pandemic, the CRA has developed an additional service‑oriented pilot, the Individual Tax Filing Assistance Initiative (ITFAI). This initiative is designed to complement the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP) in those situations where a virtual clinic is not available in the taxpayer's area of residence.

The pilot launched on July 27, 2020 and is expected to run for a period of up to 3 months. Non-Filer (NF) officers are contacting Canadians whose primary source of income is social assistance or old age security that have an outstanding 2019 tax return to promote filing options. Officers are promoting the virtual tax clinics available to the taxpayer, CRA certified tax software (some of which are free), as well as the piloted CRA service that can be accessed via a 1-800 number. Canadians will be able to contact the officers who will prepare and file the tax return on their behalf. Officers will follow similar procedures for preparing tax returns as those used by the CVITP volunteers and authentication will be performed pursuant to existing CRA protocols. The program will adhere to current CVITP eligibility criteria and be available to Canadians with modest income and a simple tax situation. The NF Program is well positioned to redirect available resources to this initiative in order to provide enhanced services to Canadians and meaningful work to employees. The nature of work aligns appropriately to the SP-05 level (Job #SP0386) as it relates to gathering tax information and completing returns. NF officers are experienced in contacting Canadians and guiding them to the tools and services available to help them with their filing obligations.

From a technology standpoint, the Director, NFD said that employees were provided with the equipment and tools necessary to support this workload virtually as well procedures and training for the ITFAI. A new Virtual Office Call Allocation System (VOCALLS) instance has been created to accommodate the implementation of the ITFAI contact centres. VOCALLS is already used as the telephony platform in the NF call centers but training on how to use this technology was provided to the employees before the launch date. In addition, this initiative relies on filing software, UFILE, used by the CVITP volunteers. Officers were able to refer to the online training to get help on how to use the UFILE software.

E-PAYROLL

The DG, Service, Innovation and Integration Branch (SIIB) stated that in his December 2019 mandate letter to the Minister of National Revenue, the Prime Minister directed the Minister to “Work with the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and the Minister of Digital Government to implement a voluntary, real-time e-payroll system with an initial focus on small businesses.” There are a number of factors driving the e-payroll initiative, including Canadians’ changing expectations regarding the availability of online services and the continued interest of businesses in simplifying interactions with the federal government. This initiative also supports the Government of Canada’s “tell us once” approach to reporting requirements and data collection across government programs, helping to ease the burden on taxpayers.

From a stakeholder perspective, Employment and Social Development Canada has been exploring e-payroll for a number of years to improve the administration of the Employment Insurance program, while Statistics Canada and the Bank of Canada have signaled their interest in more timely payroll data. Revenu Québec is exploring payroll modernization, including the adoption of more agile, flexible and modern systems. They have expressed interest in collaborating with the CRA, as the scope of the project includes enhanced data sharing within the Government of Quebec. Similarly, the Canadian Payroll Association, a key Agency stakeholder, is generally supportive, especially if it leverages their existing infrastructure.

Unlike the traditional payroll compliance life cycle, this means that the CRA would be operating within a compliance timeline that is significantly reduced – from a year or more, to weeks. Recognizing the scope of this project, the decision was to pursue a three-year developmental project to lead consultations and government-wide efforts, to analyze and develop potential implementation options for an e-payroll solution for the Government of Canada. This project is not yet funded, but some preparatory work continues within the Agency.  

CHATBOT

The DG, DSD stated that on March 15, 2019, the CRA launched Charlie, its first ever public-facing Chatbot. Based on the results of the Chatbot pilot; this new service channel may be expanded to other programs. The CRA can continue to explore the use of virtual personal assistant (VPA) technology by leveraging content developed for the Chatbot (questions and answers) for use on other platforms (Amazon Alexa, Google Home Assistant, etc.) as well as to onboard additional CRA programs to the Chatbot. Based on the results of the Chatbot beta pilot on the Climate Action Incentive Payment, the CRA launched a second pilot to test which types of content were suited for this service channel, and to evaluate the ability of a Chatbot to respond to users’ generic questions. This would allow call centre agents to deal with more complex/account specific calls in a more timely manner and to improve the ability of the CRA to respond to more calls coming into the queues. As a result of the COVID pandemic, the original scope of the pilot was changed to add new content on the various emergency response benefits. The revised Chatbot pilot was launched March 27, 2020 and as of July 6, 2020. In that period, over 2.8M questions – with over 20% of questions related to the COVID responses have been responded to. To expand the learning opportunities from this pilot, the CRA will be conducting a small experiment with live agent chat functionality. Using the same Microsoft technology, users with COVID related conversations would be able to select an option to continue their online conversation with a live agent. Protected B information is out of scope for this experiment. The first instance will be launched in late July and will include a window of approximately 2-3 hours where the live agent option will be opened. After the first iteration, adjustments will be made and subsequent experiment runs. It is anticipated that 4 to 5 iterations will take place. The goal of this experiment is to better understand what would be required to stand up a live agent chat function in the CRA, from an IT, HR and a business perspective. Current research indicates that Canadians want a live agent chat service as part of a full suite of online services and for those that choose the online channel, they want to start and finish their transactions online rather than having to move from digital to phone channels.

The UTE Regional Vice-President, Atlantic Region mentioned that as the CRA keeps adding more to the Chatbot search engine, this might take work away from the agents.

The DG, DSD said that Chatbot is only meant to reduce wait times and calls for agents as it cannot get into the taxpayer’s account directly.

DIGITAL MAILROOM PROJECT (DMP)

The Director, Administration Directorate (AD) said that the project received Resource Management Committee approval to proceed to the execution stage of the project to implement the enterprise wide digital mailroom solution and the onboarding of three business processes into the solution. The project’s initial onboarding has changed since the November 2019 update. Due to new and emerging priorities that require program adjustments and focus by key resources, the Charities Directorate (T3010 process) onboarding of its information returns process to the capabilities offered by the Digital Mailroom Project has been deferred to a later wave of implementation. As a result, Registered Plans (T510 process) will be the third program area to onboard the DMP initial wave. The Business Number and Service Complaints programs’ onboarding remains unchanged. In light of COVID-19 impacts on CRA operations, focus has shifted on developing priorities for Business Resumption. The Agency wide access to the Digitization capability has been identified as a priority to help alleviate pressures relating to mail, transportation, logistics, and secure remote access to CRA documents. It will offer the ability for the Managed Service Provider (MSP) to receive CRA paper input, convert to digital images, extract indexing and metadata, store images and make images available to 30K users, or more to view virtually. All images will be stored in a portal compliant with all CRA Information Management, Security, and Privacy requirements to support Protected B material and include end-to-end quality assurance, compliance and full chain of custody integrated with CRA mailroom and transportation operations. Collaboration with the Managed Service Provider towards providing an enterprise wide digitization capability for programs to be able to leverage by the end of summer 2020, beginning with our initial three onboarders, is underway. As a part of this work, the importance of organizational change management is recognized and robust training tools and mechanisms are being developed to support users. Full data extraction remains in scope and will be phased in for initial onboarders beginning in the fall 2020 to align with Business Suite release cycles. Both Service Complaints and Registered Plans are scheduled to go-live with the Digitization capability beginning in September 2020. Registered Plans are to phase in full data extraction in October 2020 and Service Complaints in February 2021. Business Number are to go-live with both Digitization and full data extraction in October 2020.

She also mentioned that the potential impacts as a result of DMP are still under analysis and that at this time, she was not in a position to determine what those may be and what effects  they may have on the CRA workforce profile of the onboarding programs and the supporting functions such as the mailrooms.

As the project progresses management will continue to keep the unions informed of any new developments.

Action Item:

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

DIRECT DEPOSIT FINANCIAL INSTITUTION

The DG, Horizontal Integration Directorate (HID) mentioned that the Direct deposit is the

Government of Canada’s preferred mechanism to ensure payments are received in a timely and cost-effective manner. She also said that there is no technological change for the CRA but a new electronic direct deposit enrolment channel for Canadians, resulting in better service. The CRA has been collaborating with Desjardins and TD Canada Trust since February 2018. In response to COVID-19 and to help provide better service to Canadians, the CRA onboarded additional financial institutions resulting in over 2.6M enrolments to date and facilitating the CERB and CESB payments and other entitlements to individuals.

She confirmed that there is no HR impacts at this time as the initiative drove up volumes. Any reductions would be gradual and directly linked to the take up rates.

ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION (RPA)

The DG, HID said that the ABSB had been working toward implementing two pilot processes. The Revenue Ledger (RL) Open Item management (OIM) process successfully migrated into the production environment on May 21, 2020 and the RL Production Monitoring process was implemented on July 14, 2020. There continues to be no HR impacts for these two RL processes. The RPA will allow for process efficiencies and greater internal controls enabling employees to focus on other value-added tasks. To help manage increased inventory backlogs other RPA opportunities is being explored. She also said that they are currently targeting the T1 Unallocated payment, Complex Special Election Returns (SERs), and uncashed CRA cheques workflows. Moving forward, the ABSB will continue to drive the RPA roadmap and the onboarding strategy for the Branch and Agency. Collaboration with key partners and stakeholders will continue. Management will continue to monitor and provide updates.

The UTE Regional Vice-President, Atlantic Region asked if there are possible job losses.

The DG, HID confirmed that there are no expected impact on workers and the budget was increased.

Action Item:

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

DIGITAL SERVICES strategy

The DG, DSD offered an overview of its digital services accomplishments during 2019-2020.  Some of the highlights included collaborating with the Province of British Columbia (BC) for Digital Identity and allowing the use of the BC Services Card as an approved CRA credential for accessing CRA digital services. Based on the success of this project, other provinces and territories will want to onboarding and discussions with the province of Alberta are in process. He said that this work would also allow alignment with the Government of Canada’s OneGC vision of making it easier for all Canadians to interact with their governments digitally without having to create multiple accounts with multiple departments or jurisdictions. He stated the ability for taxpayers to see any uncashed cheques in the secure portal and request a replacement and mentioned the changes to the Email service to respond to what Canadians are asking for and including our names (Canada Revenue Agency) as the sender to help alleviate concerns around fraud. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Agency was called upon to help deliver emergency response programs, as a result of the efforts that have been made to strengthen our digital infrastructure and services.

Moving forward the CRA will continue its priority of delivering the emergency response programs in relation to COVID-19. As capacity permits, advancement to the digital service projects will respond to the digital needs and expectations of Canadians. Some of the highlights of new and ongoing initiatives include the Progress Tracker. This digital service will track the status of a client’s file within the secure digital space to reassure Canadians that the administration of the file they submitted to the CRA is advancing and it will provide current status and estimated completion. Building on the success of the partnership with BC, My Alberta Digital ID is an initiative that will provide citizens from Alberta to use their provincial credentials (MyAlberta Digital ID) to securely access their CRA My Account. The first phase of the Disability Tax Credit Certificate (DTC) Digital Application will build an online application that guides the medical practitioner through a series of questions that will result in the collection of information to complete their portion of the T2201 for their patient. This project is setting the prototype for future use with other forms under the Digital Interactive Information Submission. He also mentioned the Accelerated Growth Service (AGS) Proof of Concept from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) in partnership with CRA. This project is seeking to leverage the CRA’s authentication process to allow the partner organisation’s clients to gain immediate access to online services.

CLOSING REMARKS

The AC, ABSB thanked everyone for their contribution.

The UTE Regional Vice-President, Atlantic Region asked about the Finance and Administration Branch Synergy software change in the Corporate Administrative Systems.

The acting Director General, AD, responded that the e-commerce solution would no longer be supported by 2021. The software is moving to a new cloud - synergy 2.0 with a more user friendly environment. This is a simple update to the licence and has no employee impact. The WebEx training is schedule to start in September.

The UTE Regional Vice-President, Atlantic Region also asked about TITUS software.

The Manager, ITB said that he anticipate the full deployment of TITUS next week as it is not full scale yet. To date there is no negative impact.

The UTE Regional Vice-President, Atlantic Region thanked everyone for the meeting.

Frank Vermaeten
Assistant Commissioner
Assessment and Benefit Services Branch
Canada Revenue Agency

Marc Brière
National President
Union of Taxation Employees
 

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