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Accenture helps ease taxpayers' burdens and serves as the preferred channel for interacting with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) through www.irs.gov.
The Internal Revenue Service was one of the first government agencies to create a comprehensive online source of tax information, forms and publications for taxpayers and tax practitioners. The site, previously known as the "Digital Daily," quickly became a very popular website. Over the next several years, various IRS organizations have added to—and updated—their online content to keep pace with rising taxpayer interest and to better meet the needs of constituents groups. As a result, constituents gained ever-greater access to information. The site received many awards and accolades for the amount and quality of information it provided.
However, with so many organizations placing so much information—some 48,000 content objects in many disparate formats—on the site, user navigation and information retrieval became increasingly difficult. Clearly, with more and more people visiting the site for tax-related information and electronic filing options, the IRS knew it needed to upgrade the underlying infrastructure upon which Digital Daily was originally constructed. Specifically, the IRS believed it could better serve taxpayers by redesigning the site to make it easier for taxpayers to access information and by implementing a distributed content management system that would make it easier for internal users to create new online content—all while reducing the site's maintenance costs.
For help in redesigning its online capabilities, the IRS wanted to partner with a service provider that could provide an entire solution that encompassed technology and Web design as well as infrastructure, help desks and change management/deployment skills to change the way the site and its tools are used. It was also critical that the provider could deliver results prior to the next year's busy tax season—just five months away. The Accenture Team of companies (Accenture, Qwest Communications and AFFINA) was the logical choice. Not only did Accenture possess all the skills and experience required to complete the website redesign and implementation in such a short time frame, but we were also quite familiar with the needs, culture and expectations of the IRS. For 20 years, Accenture had served as a trusted partner to the IRS, helping the agency implement a number of new systems, processes and capabilities.
As part of the proposal process, Accenture formed a team of companies and resources to partner with the IRS to develop and implement a new IRS website, www.irs.gov. Because the new system needed to be easy to use, the Accenture-led team designed the site's access and navigation from the user's perspective, not from the perspective of the IRS organizational structure. With this role intentions-based approach, the site asks taxpayers to consider themselves as individuals, businesses or tax professionals and then directs them to a "landing" page that specifically addresses their tax information requirements. This simple step makes it much easier and more intuitive for users to find the information they need. At the time, Gregory Carson, director, Modernization Program Office in the Office of Electronic Tax Administration, had this to say about the innovative approach: "The development of an intuitive, intentions-based design will make it considerably easier for taxpayers and tax preparers, who pull forms from the site, to obtain the information and documents they need to file tax returns. We expect this approach to be a real time saver for taxpayers and preparers during next year's tax season."
Once the Accenture/IRS team had outlined the basic navigational structure, it leveraged the infrastructure and resources from the Accenture Government Center—a facility dedicated to cost-effectively design and build systems for government organizations. Together they:
Despite the scale, scope and complexity of the project, Accenture created and deployed the new site in just five months. An equally impressive feat occurred 10 months later, when the team deployed a customized distributed content management system that revolutionized the way the agency created and managed information for tens of million of taxpayers.
One of the first of its kind within the federal government, the new system enables the creation, review, approval and publishing of IRS content without the need for technical staff involvement. The highly tailored application, based on Vignette's object-oriented, integrated content management technology, looks like a word processor to the user. But in the background, the application automatically formats the content for posting to the website. Initially rolled out to "super users" from 12 business and functional organizations that owned content on the IRS.gov website, more than 200 users are now able to publish or modify content directly on the website within minutes. That number may increase to around 300 in the future.
The rollout of this new application was a monumental effort, during which Accenture worked with IRS content owners to complete a content information inventory and analysis, define the necessary "content types," design a new taxonomy, convert 18,000 pages of content to new templates and configure many of the Vignette modules to better meet users' needs. Today, the system manages more than 3,600 navigation aids, 27,600 static files and 17,400 articles. The flexible and scalable architecture of IRS.gov—based on Sun Solaris OS, leveraging Oracle database, BEA's WebLogic application server, IPlanet Web server, Verity for search and Vignette for content management—provides the IRS with a highly available, high-performing site with a consistent look and feel. It also provides defined website templates that allow discreet pieces of content to be stored independently and reassembled as needed by content managers, eliminating content duplication.
In addition to designing, customizing and rolling out the new IRS website and content management application, Accenture was involved in several other projects that helped seal the program's success. Specifically, Accenture helped develop and implement:
The success of this ambitious project was due, in large part, to the strong partnership that existed between Accenture and the various IRS business units. Collaboration and teamwork, coupled with Accenture's change management capabilities and responsiveness, helped ensure that IRS users were deeply engaged in—and excited by—the program's success every step of the way.
With Accenture's help, the IRS completely redesigned its initial website, improving its online availability of services and information and created a preferred channel for interactions with the IRS—all within just five months. To date, the website has met all of the IRS's goals. Namely, it has:
The Accenture-led project has already won numerous awards for its ease of use, its innovative application of technology and its service improvements. For example, for the past two years www.irs.gov was cited as the Web's top searched-for website in the "Lycos 50." The new IRS.gov website has also received the Best of the Web award from Forbes magazine in the area of personal finance and an e-Gov Pioneer Award, one of 20 awards recognizing websites for their innovative approaches to improving core products and services. The IRS received many accolades from tax professionals at the 2003 Nationwide Tax Forums; most tax professionals we talked with at the event remarked that they use the site every day and appreciate its ease-of-use, reliability and completeness.
In short, the website redesign and content management system implementation have helped the IRS to streamline its processes, increase productivity, save time and money and improve the quality, timeliness and accuracy of government-provided information and services. As one content manager remarked: "I used to have a six-week backlog of content updates on my desk; after the launch of the 'CMA' two weeks ago, I'm knocking on peoples' doors for more updates." Accenture and our team of companies continue to build on these successes at the IRS by working with the agency to further standardize XML formats, automate workflow and review processes, develop multi-lingual online services and make the site accessible to all constituents.
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