Australian Tax Office says not yet for .Net

Despite developing most of a new digital certificate model for Australian business on .Net software, Australian Tax Office (ATO) chief technology officer Peter Wilson said the platform “doesn’t give us anything we (the ATO) couldn’t do before”.

The Tax Office plans to use the Australian Business Number Digital Signature Certificate (ABN DSC) with the Australian Business Register (ABR) Web site before May. The ABR site was rebuilt in .Net last year.

However, most of this .Net development has been towards standard Web site services, Wilson said.

“The user operates a browser just as if they are using any other Web site. For them, .Net is invisible,” he said.

“We’re still feeling our way with (.Net). It still has to mature.”

The ATO Web site will use the ABN DSC in the next six months, according to Wilson, but components of this site will only be converted to .Net as the need arises. Wilson also said the ATO was currently testing .Net Server 2003. Moving to the platform is not a given, however. Any decision to move to a .Net Server 2003 environment would be based on functionality and value for money, he said.

The ABN DSC was developed by the National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE) in conjunction with Australia’s banks, and will give businesses a single, secure encryption device that will be used in online transactions. Based on Baltimore Technologies’ UniCert technology, the ABN DSC holds a digital signature for digitally signing transactions and uses Java on clients. The files will only be distributed in person and after identification has been shown.

“At the moment (the ATO) doesn’t provide the range of services we’d like to, due to the problems of authentication,” Wilson said. “The (existing) system is weak,” he said. “There’s a sufficient level of transactions on the Internet you may not want to do.”

The ABN DSC will allow organizations other than the ATO, such as banks, to issue the common, accredited certificate.

The Tax Office chose .Net over Java as the ATO’s infrastructure was based on Microsoft’s distributed network architecture.

The first application written in .Net was the ABR site. Previously this was tightly integrated with the ATO databases, but in July last year was relaunched as a single register.

“ABR was originally a COM+ project,” Wilson said, adding that when .Net was introduced, it was used to develop some parts to take advantage of the new features it offered.

Written in C#, Visual Basic 7 and Visual C++ 7, the result was less code and faster development.

Wilson said .Net had also been used to develop SOAP based services. The ABN Search facility on the ABR site, for example, can be called directly by other applications connected to the Web.

Digital certificates have been used on the ABR site since December, though by May, the site should be using the ABN DSC.

The Transport Action Committee of Victoria is already using the ABN DSC, and Customs and the Department of Defence “were looking at it”, Wilson said.