BETWEEN THE CANADA REVENUE AGENCY AND THE UNION OF TAXATION EMPLOYEES
Frank Vermaeten Brian Oldford
Gillian Pranke Greg Krokosh
Heather Daniels Josh Atwood
Silvano Tocchi Kimberly Koch
Philip Quinlan Mathieu Juneau
The UTE Regional Vice-President, Atlantic Region and co-chair of the Technological Change Committee welcomed the participants to the second virtual meeting of the committee. He stressed the importance of having the record of discussion shared within 60 days of the meeting. He also requested to obtain background information along with the issue statement to allow for more context when presenting a new topic.
The Assistant Commissioner (AC) and the Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC), Assessment, Benefit and Service Branch (ABSB) welcomed the participants and agreed to share the information on a timely basis. They also agreed that on a go forward basis, more detailed context will be provided to accompany the issue statements for agenda items.
- UMR/HRB will provide the union with the record of discussion within 60 days following the meeting.
- UMR/HRB will ensure that detailed context for each agenda item is provided at the time the agenda is finalized.
The Director General (DG), Call Centre Service Directorate (CCSD), explained that tNearly 85% of the workforce are now working from home and new recruits are set up for telework from the start. The quick transition to telework for the vast majority of employees allowed for little to no interruption to contact centre operations.
At the onset of the pandemic, and with the announcement of new emergency relief measures, the CRA contact centres began to receive an unprecedented number of calls that surpassed the Hosted Contact Centre System (HCCS) technological capabilities. The stand alone contact centre infrastructure was launched to respond to this spike in call demands, and temporary call centre agents were transitioned to this new telephone system to alleviate strain on the HCCS system. This has worked effectively and has ensured continued stability on the HCCS lines.
The DG, CCSD, also mentioned that live chat has been piloted. The Chatbot project pivoted to implement an online live chat agent service by leveraging temporary call centre agents already trained in COVID enquiries. The live chat agent experiments offered Canadians empathetic assistance during a time of uncertainty on a communication channel that was easy and accessible to them. The pilot was successful, and funding has been secured to continue experimenting with the live chat agent in 2021 to strengthen the CRA’s agent-assisted services.
HCCS enhancements continue to be explored. The DG, CCSD, advised that most recently, the callback system has been successfully launched on the Business Enquiries line where we continue to calibrate and optimize the system. This feature gives callers the option to receive an automated callback when it’s almost their turn, rather than to wait on hold for long periods of time. The roll out to the individual and benefits lines is planned for early 2021 while HCCS enhancements continue to be explored.
The union asked if the stand alone platform is here to stay or if it is a functional fix to HCCS. The DG, CCSD, replied that call demands spiked dramatically, which drove the CRA to explore a rapid alternative solution to deliver its mandate, and leveraging the stand alone platform was the best option. It was very successful and the early stage of assessment is underway to see if this system will suit the expected business requirements.
DIGITAL DISABILITY TAX CREDIT (DTC) APPLICATION
The DG, Benefit Programs Directorate (BPD) explained that the DTC digital application is one of several initiatives the Agency has undertaken to modernize the DTC program, and is broken down into two phases.
To be released this year, phase one is focused on optimizing the medical practitioner portion of DTC submissions by building a framework for the information gathering process of DTC submissions. Discussions with medical practitioners have shown that they sometimes struggle to understand what information the CRA requires to make DTC determinations. This will reduce the number of incomplete DTC submissions and reduce the number of clarification letters sent to medical practitioners. When medical practitioners have completed the digital application, it will generate a pre-populated PDF document that requires their signature and some information from the taxpayer, prior to submission through existing channels (mail, or Submit Docs in My Account).
As of December 31, 2020, the initial build of the DTC application is nearing completion. A round of user experience (UX) testing took place in late 2020. UX testing will continue throughout winter and spring 2021 to obtain further feedback. This testing has included regional employees at the Winnipeg Tax Centre. Once phase one is implemented, the work conducted by tax centre assessors will not be impacted in terms of the systems they use or the procedures they follow. The main change for assessors will be how the information is displayed on the form they receive.
Phase two is still very much in the investigation stage, but its aim will be a digital process where both taxpayers and medical practitioners can complete their portions of a DTC submission online. As work progresses on this phase, updates will be provided.
The union requested to obtain a demo at the next meeting.
- The DG, BPD, will provide a demo of the Digital DTC Application at the next meeting*.
(*a demo was provided to the UTE committee members on February 8, 2021)
COLLECTIONS VERIFICATION WORKLOAD MANAGEMENT SYSTEM (CVWMS)
The DG, Technology and Business Intelligence Directorate (TABI) explained that the CVWMS resources continue to work on the new economic measures requirements for Collections.
As requirements continue to evolve in relation to Canadian Economic measures, additional releases are required for the CERB, CESB, the 3 recovery benefits, and the rent subsidy workloads.
As priorities are being re-evaluated, the release schedule will determine if work will be required beyond October 2021. The functionality being built into CVWMS is expected to align with known requirements for the project once it resumes. The project continues to build on the change management strategy used in previous releases which focused on: communication, training and stakeholder engagement. The goal is to ensure a shared understanding of the upcoming changes and to facilitate a smooth transition to the new system. Regular engagement with HQ and field users continues to be a priority pre and post implementation. The project continues to seek input and feedback on the new platform, in order to reassure users about upcoming fixes and enhancements.
SECURE DATA CHANNEL (SDC)
The DG, TABI, shared that the Secure Data Channel (SDC) project will improve the way business clients, third parties, other partners, and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) securely share data, files and support CRA employees to work virtually.
The SDC has 3 primary deliverables:
- Business-to-CRA(B2CRA) communication – a secure two-way channel allowing CRA to send and receive information digitally;
- Receipt of digitized inbound faxes (E-fax) – an internal facing tool to support sustainable development and to ensure secure receipt of faxes; and
- Secure drop zone – a secure channel allowing clients and third-parties to digitally transfer to CRA “one-off” submissions outside of the secure portals.
The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the need for more digital options. All three deliverables allow remote retrieval of documents and data. This will allow employees to do more work digitally, contributing to employee health and safety, by reducing the need for handling paper files. The project is in the detailed planning stage until March 31, 2022. There is a need to accelerate the implementation in order to reduce the need for employees to physically retrieve faxes from the office.
The union asked if there are any impacts on employees now that the work is being done electronically. The DG, TABI, responded that considering the high volumes, there are no employee impacts foreseen today.
CHARITIES IT MODERNIZATION PROJECT (CHAMPS)
The DG, Charities Directorate, stated that CHAMP was launched in the spring of 2019 and is currently being used by employees, charities, and their representatives. The Charities Directorate expanded the operations performed by the Prince Edward Island Tax Centre (PEITC) from keying T3010 Registered information returns provided by charities to including an outbound call component in order to confirm inaccurate/missing client answers.
The DG, Charities, advised that in working with their regional counterparts, it was determined that increased funding was provided for additional resources. The Client Call Centre commenced phone calls in July 2020, shortly after the PEITC resumed its operations following the pandemic closure.
The union asked if there were any FTE impacts as a result of the system and work changes. The DG, Charities, replied that to date, the contact team has improved efficiency and there was no plan to reduce the size of the permanent workforce as a result of the implementation of this new system.
The Assistant Commissioner (AC), Digital Transformation Program (DTP) stated that the Chatbot pilot evaluated the ability of a Chatbot to respond to users’ generic questions, and tested which types of content were best suited for this service channel. These experimental chat services did not access taxpayer-specific account information, nor did they advise or make decisions with respect to a taxpayer’s account. The revised Chatbot pilot was launched on March 27, 2020. The live chat agent service experiment leveraged volunteer call centre agents, who were trained in COVID enquiries and provided non account-specific support for COVID measures only. As the government response continued, more live chat agent sessions were arranged in October/November 2020, initiating live chat agent contact sooner and with reduced Chatbot assistance. Client feedback from these experiments was very positive. Many expressed high levels of satisfaction and asked to expand this service to deal with account-specific information. The next chat service testing iteration may include the addition of more content to increase the Chatbot volume and complexity, the exploration of the CRA Chatbot hosted on social media websites, and the exploration of interaction between the CRA Chatbot and a virtual personal assistant, such as Alexa or Siri.
The AC, DTP, also discussed the partnership with CCSD. The live chat agent sessions are to provide transactional client support, such as a password reset or other high volume call drivers. Current feedback indicates that our clients are choosing the CRA Chatbot and live chat agent channels because they have enjoyed similar services elsewhere.
The AC, DTP, advised that as the CRA continues to pilot and experiment with this technology and this new service channel to configure a more permanent solution, management will keep the union updated on the progress on the CRA’s technology and digital service offerings.
The union asked if over time these changes could reduce call volume, which could impact employees. The AC, DTP, responded that the answers from the live chat sessions come directly from agents and that it is mostly meant to reduce wait times and calls for agents as a way to relieve the pressure.
DIGITAL MAILROOM PROJECT (DMP)
The Director General, Administration Directorate (AD) advised that since the July 2020 update, the project accelerated the digitization capability to alleviate pressures across the Agency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, relating to mail, transportation, logistics and secure remote access to CRA documents.
The project deployed the enterprise-wide digitization solution in September 2020, and all three initial programs (Business Number, Service Complaints, and Registered Plans) have been onboarded to the digitization capability. All images are stored in the Document Management Portal, which is 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. As a part of the scope of the DMP, the initial three program areas will also use the data extraction capability of the solution. In light of the acceleration of the digitization capability, the Strategic Business Resumption (SBR) Committee asked the project team to analyse other programs across the Agency to see if they would be suitable onboarders for digitization.
The project team has identified five additional programs, and is working with these areas to confirm their requirements and suitability:
- Compliance Programs Branch
- Clearance Certificates
- Appeals Branch
- Objections (Tax and GST)
- Legislative Policy and Regulatory Affairs Branch
- CPP/EI Rulings
- Assessment, Benefit & Service Branch
- T1 Taxpayer Requested Adjustments – Free form correspondence
- Other Levies paper - Specialty Business Returns
The additional five programs plan to implement digitization beginning April 2021 in advance of filing season.
The potential impacts on the workforce, as a result of extraction, are unknown at this time. The project team continues to work closely with the Human Resource Branch (HRB) and onboarding programs to analyze and identify any potential impacts. This analysis will determine if the DMP will have an impact on the workforce in the onboarding programs and supporting functions, such as the mailrooms.
The union asked if there are any possible mailroom employee impacts in Jonquière. The DG, AD, confirmed that there are no mailroom employee impacts at this time.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI)
The DG, Research and Innovation (RI) provided an update on Artificial intelligence (AI), indicating that it has the potential to transform the CRA in many different areas and help improve the Agency’s ability to achieve its mandate and better serve Canadians. The CRA is currently exploring AI solutions to enhance client experience, better target activities, and optimize our programs and corporate services.
Given the strategic importance of AI, and in order to further enable AI at the Agency, the CRA has developed a plan around six strategic areas which are: Governance, Alignment with priorities, Ethical considerations, Tools & infrastructure, Data and Human resources.
This plan aims to ensure that AI solutions at the CRA are designed and deployed in a responsible and ethical manner, in line with the CRA’s new Directive on AI and an associated online self-assessment tool called the Algorithmic Impact and Alignment Assessment (AIAA). The Directive on AI supports responsible and ethical adoption of AI, by ensuring that AI solutions are designed and deployed in a manner that maintains the trust of Canadians. The AIAA tool has three main objectives: ensuring business alignment, managing risk, and enabling horizontality. A Director General level committee as well as an Assistant Commissioner level committee will provide additional oversight for AI projects deemed high risk or aligned with a key business priority.
The union expressed concerns that AI could take over employees’ work.The DG, RI, acknowledged those concerns, and added that Artificial intelligence (AI), if properly introduced, can be like onboarding people and talent, and may foster a more effective and efficient workforce.At the same time, by engaging with all stakeholders, concerns related to AI impacts can be addressed earlier in the process of managing change.
The union asked if there was any timeline regarding AI initiatives. The DG, RI, answered that there are no immediate specific timelines, as the current priority is to ensure the correct framework, directive, and tools are in place to identify, govern and manage effectively AI experimentation in the Agency.
The union requested a demo of the AIAA tool at the next meeting, which was agreed to by the DG, RI.
- The DG, RI will ensure a demo of the AIAA tool is provided at the next meeting.
The DG, Major Projects and System Integration Directorate (MPSID) said that the approximately 250-300k T3 returns received annually are filed by paper and processing is mostly manual. Only a small portion of the identification information is collected. The new filing and reporting requirements introduced in the 2018 federal budget may increase the volume of T3 Returns to an estimated 2 million annually. The CRA must modernize the T3 program and systems to be able to process the expected increase in T3 filing and to collect, verify, and maintain the new identification information.
The first release is scheduled for February 2021. This release will see T3 onboarding the existing individual ident system, and a new online account registration process which will allow clients to request a T3 number through My Account, My Business Account and Represent a Client. Scheduled for February 2022, the second release will see the modernization of the returns processing system which aligns with the expected increase in returns. The third release, planned for 2023, will include the new T3 accounting system and the addition of prior year returns and reassessments to the core processing system. As the project progresses, more will be known about the exact impacts of these changes.
The union asked if there are any workforce adjustments induced by the system and work changes. The DG, MPSID, answered that workforce adjustments are not anticipated as the volumes of returns and, correspondingly, the associated processing work, should actually be increasing.
The union asked if any T1 training is planned. The DG, MPSID, answered that some training will be required. However, the technical knowledge required for T1 and T3 are very similar and considering that T3 employees already use certain common systems (such as T1 Case), a smooth transition is expected.
The union asked if any job changes are expected. The DG, MPSID, answered that they are working with HRB at this time, completing a comparison of the T1 vs the T3 work descriptions and classifications, as well as the organizational structure. Considering that the T1 and the T3 processing work is already completed within the same division in the Tax Centres, work description updates are anticipated, however no substantial changes to the job levels are expected.
ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION (RPA)
The DG, Horizontal Integration Directorate (HID) said that, faced with an unprecedented pandemic environment, the CRA’s focus shifted to minimize impacts on critical workloads or to assist with substantial workload pressures. Two additional workloads were automated in the fall.
The Collections and Verification Branch’s Suspicious Activity Screening workload launched RPA bots to assist with the urgent laborious manual process aimed at identifying high risk accounts where possible unauthorized use of taxpayer information has occurred. The process implemented on October 19, 2020 is performing well.
For the T1 Unallocated Payments process, the bot determines the original destination of the taxpayer’s payment and transfers it accordingly based on the functional business rules. The process was launched on December 14, 2020.
There continues to be no human resources impacts for these processes. The RPA allows for process efficiencies and greater internal controls, enabling employees to focus on other value-added tasks. Other RPA opportunities are being explored to help manage the increased inventory pressures.
Special Elections & Returns (SER) Modernization
The DG, Business Returns Directorate (BRD) said that SER modernization will implement a digital processing system (SERS application) where none currently exists, and will automate certain manual/administrative steps in the processing of elections. The new SERS application will accept electronic submission, which will streamline processing and validation, and will reduce the need for physical storage of paper forms.
The SERS application will include data capture, processing and basic validation of elections and returns, and will also calculate and maintain capital dividend account balances, identify and calculate penalties, streamline work management, and prepare correspondence content for the automated letters. The DG, BRD, added that the new system would allow assessors to focus on more value-added SER processing work that will improve client service, by expediting the processing of the elections and provide for real time CDA Balances in MyBA.
The DG, BRD, stated that the automation of the CDA Balance and T2054 calculation will see a reduction of 9.25 FTEs by March 2022 in Summerside (the only location these elections are processed). As of October 2021, an additional 2.25 FTEs nationally will be required temporarily to key all elections into the new SER system, until electronic filing is available for the majority of forms in May 2024. Given the complexities of elections, many will continue to require manual intervention and, therefore, additional significant resource reductions are not expected within the next 5 years.
DIGITAL SERVICES strategy
The Assistant Commissioner (AC), Digital Transformation Program (DTP) stated that during the past six months, the CRA has supported the Government of Canada’s emergency response measures, by developing and delivering a number of applications to provide financial support to Canadians throughout the ongoing COVID pandemic.
Moving forward, the Agency will continue its priority of delivering the emergency response programs in relation to COVID-19. Resources are now pivoting back to working on digital projects that had been temporarily impacted as a result of the need to focus on the emergency programs, such as the secure portal re-engineering project, progress tracker, payments improvements as well as email notifications among others.
The next steps for the Digital Transformation Program is the development of an implementation plan. This plan will identify various digital service initiatives that will be undertaken over the next several years to advance the CRA’s digital agenda for both clients and employees.
The AC and the DAC, ABSB, thanked everyone for their contribution.
The UTE Regional Vice-President, Atlantic Region thanked everyone for the meeting.
Date: May 25, 2021