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Hong Kong's IRD does it right

Stefan Hammond | Aug. 5, 2013
As a technology journalist, I received many press releases promising "solutions." This particular word—"solutions"—is troublesome.

As a technology journalist, I received many press releases promising "solutions." This particular word—"solutions"—is troublesome.

I understand that technology is more complex nowadays, in terms like "bundled hardware-software package" no longer apply. Products for sale often include hardware, software, support, firmware upgrades, and whatever else. It's simpler to use the word "solutions."

But that word is so overused in technology jargon today that it has lost its meaning. For every solution, there must be a problem. So whenever anyone says the word "solution" to me, I always ask: "what's the problem?"

The problem
For years, I used Hong Kong's online tax reporting system hosted by the Inland Revenue Department(IRD). It has worked magnificently. Log onto their system and they have a short form, with much of your information already filled in. Fill in the particulars for this tax year, and sign electronically using your unique password. The system immediately informs you that you filed your tax return, and even gives you a computational estimate of your tax situation.

The system is world-class. However, when I went to log on this year, I ran into a wall made of Java bricks. No browser I use could communicate with the IRD's system. I was dismayed.

But being the brick-headed geek that I am, I decided to attempt to fix the problem—with the support of the IRD's computer department. They sent emails with possible remedies. I tried the fixes, but still couldn't get the system to work. I took screenshots of the problems I was encountering, and emailed them to the friendly folks at the IRD.

Things came to a head when I followed a detailed FAQ they provided which had several steps involving enabling/disabling certain Java functions, and still could not get the system to allow me to login. I admit: my email after that was rather sharply worded. To the IRD's credit, they invited me to their computer system department, with my laptop, to see if they could help me debug the persistent problem. This is a typical, but as a text journalist, I felt it would be a good practice on my part. After all, I must pay taxes in Hong Kong—and I feel the rates here are fair—and I prefer to do so online using a secure government tax revenue system.

The solution
The head of the team helping me debug my problem, Systems Manager Philip Chan, had four other IRD computer employees with him. Even more impressive: a series of workstations with various users set-ups installed on them. The sort of testing environments you would expect from a government department charged with sensitive and compulsory financial operations. What I saw was as world-class as the user interface.


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