ACES: Why success for c.ex is not replicated to s.tax ?

This commissionerate received overwhelming response to implementation of ACES for central excise area, by way of active participation by assessees and the officers since its launch, as observed by the DGSM in its periodical performance review. The statistical data generated locally and those communicated by DGSM show that the success rate is not correspondingly similar for s.tax ! The reason for exemplary participation in c.ex can be attributed to certain known factors like:
    a.  the nature of enterprise,
    b.  corporate atmosphere,
    c.  fully evolved established practices of law,
    d.  size of operation of activity/business,
    e.  the executive powers of Dept. officers,
    f.  transparency of business operations, etc.,

Similar condusive factors are absent in the case of service industry managing of which by the Dept. is beset with attributes like large volume of unorganised sector, low scale of operation by industry, enterprise's ignorence of law, covert non-physical non-visual operations, etc. These attributes of the industry has contributed to low level of implementation of ACES in s.tax. Apart from this, there may be inherent lacunae with ACES project management itself which are enumerated below as reasons for a mediocre performance in s.tax. While the reasons attributable to the management of the project are not discussed here, reasons contribuetd by the user-officers can be discussed here; such reasons can be called as growing pains during the evolution of any movement.

    Treating the automation process as if it is a narrow IT section's facilitation:

Targetted users treat the implementation 'as if it applies only to the IT-savvy people or to officers in the IT team'; this treatment defeats the purpose of automation. Technology experts in designing the software for the industry observe that "....in such a condition, technology deployment will take place in a vacuum, re-engineering and alignment of work-flow with software requirements will not take place, and staff will resist using it". Only a handful of officers are aware of the positive and negative factors of the project and the rest are happy with doing the work manually ! There is no compulsion or systemic mandate to undertake the electronic workflow of files and documents.

    Leadership :

If leaders in the hierarchy do not evince interest in actually using the workflow in real-time and if they are not committed to the changed environment, they can not project the success of the plan. The project needs to be viewed as a means of transforming the administration, resulting in more transparency, more accountability, wide and deep revenue intelligence,etc.

    Inaccurate data:

Data entered into a digital workflow is to be used by the entire organization. Because of the integrated nature of workflow, if inaccurate data is entered into the common database - particularly by the assessees in various application/return formats, the erroneous data may have a negative domino effect throughout the department. Inaccurate data can lead to errors in revenue planning, HR and other administrative planning and management. This encourages people to ignore the new system and continue to run the Dept., under the old manual system.

Inadequate education and training:

Top System Managers and all users must be fully educated so that they understand how to integrate the workflow system into the overall department operation. Users must be trained to take full advantage of the system’s capabilities. Failure to educate and train all relevant personnel will guarantee implementation problems. This is one area plaguing the field offices now. The training given to the officers initially was very rudimentary and it just opened out what was prima facie available in the program;  There is an unbridgeable gap between the users who were trained but did not have the domain knowledge update and the users who were updated on the domain but lacked training.

Trying to maintain the status quo:

People have a natural tendency to be comfortable with the status quo and may be fearful of changes brought about by any new system, where performance of each individual is system-measured frequently unlike manual way of annual confidential reporting. They may fear that the new system will make their jobs more difficult, reduce their importance, or even cost them their jobs. People are also afraid of failure. This is a dangerous approach and the administration needs to wind up the manual workflow practice parallel.

Technology first before GST regime opens:

Govt. is of the opinion that if GST is to take place successfully, technology should be in place well ahead of start of GST regime. It would be very difficult to keep track of the revenue accounting and sharing or passing on of the tax credits without proper technology. If the Dept does not have data records that cannot be easily migrated to the new software under GST, it will then take another thre years to legacy data to generate revenue intelligence report for collection of revenue and policy research.

Unrealistic expectations:

Administrators and the staff frequently assume that performance will begin to improve immediately after launch. Since the new system is complex and difficult to master, organizations must be prepared for an initial decline in output after the new software comes into operation. As familiarity with the new system increases, the expected improvements will come. However, administration must be prepared for initial waves of frustration. Sustained encouragement and appreciation of the users is essential to keep the expectations of the software high.

As seen from above factors, full-fledged implementation of ACES in S.Tax is very essential to reach the overall goals of the Department administration. It is submitted that these factors may please be perused and approval for initiatives to be taken in due course from the System side of this commissionerate to tackle the drawbacks already felt or anticipated may please be accorded.