Cloud-based portal kept IRS ahead of the e-filers

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Cloud-based portal kept IRS ahead of the e-filers

During 2013, the Internal Revenue Service processed more than 240 million federal tax returns, collected nearly $2.9 trillion in gross taxes, and issued more than 121 million refunds.  Taxpayers – both individuals and businesses – worked hard to ensure that they met deadlines, with more than 151 million of them filing electronically.

Project at a glance

Project: Integrated Enterprise Portal Program

Office: Internal Revenue Service

Technology used: Keynote application monitoring, ServiceNow Ticket Management, Akamai Global Traffic Management and Caching Services, McAfee Web Gateway, SoapSonar and SoapUI, TLS encryption

Time To Implementation: 2.5 years from acquisition, 1 year for first phase, and an additional year for the second phase

Before: Separate infrastructures for different portals meant limited ability to share data and content, difficulty meeting demand and managing systems and inconsistent user experiences.

After: An integrated, scalable private cloud combines the functionality of 60 separate applications.

With the ever increasing numbers of e-filers, IRS officials knew their existing technology wouldn’t be able to keep up with the demand from tax payers or the agency’s 80,000 employees.

The IRS’s existing electronic processing system was made up of disparate applications, each with its own infrastructure, limiting the agency’s ability to share data internally and hampering its ability to serve taxpayers in an end-to-end fashion. In addition, the aging infrastructure didn’t have the capabilities necessary to support the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Clearly, the system had to be completely overhauled.

The Integrated Enterprise Portal (IEP) was designed to be an innovative and cost-effective system that would provide a fully scalable, managed private cloud capability to the IRS, enabling one-stop, web-based services for internal and external users.

To maintain full control over the IEP program, the IRS team chose to act as program and project manager, overseeing a  build-out, integrating the new portal with existing filing processes and providing strategic direction. Accenture performed the actual technology implementation.

It was also important to maintain control over the entire process because of the need to deliver the project on time and within budget. The “on time” part was particularly important, as development had to be finished between busy periods on the public-facing website, IRS.gov.

“We had a very small window to work with as far as deployment because the filing season starts in January, and a peak of returns coming in in April and October,” said Robert Leahy, then IRS director of enterprise program implementation and now an associate CIO. Further shortening the window were three government furlough days during the development period in which the entire IRS was shut down and no work could get done.

“It put a lot of pressure on the technology team, and it required very close coordination and strict adherence to schedules,” Leahy said. “We locked down requirements and didn’t allow any changes during the 18 month development cycle. That helped us stay focused on what needed to be done without getting sidetracked.”

To meet the goals of scalability, flexibility, security and ease of use, the team chose to develop a FISMA moderate private cloud capability on an open source platform.

The cloud enabled the IRS to deploy new virtual machines. Services include a flexible charge-back model and capacity management tool to help manage its cloud usage and application pipeline.  A customized content management system, dynamic routing and security technology including firewall, Layer 7 Secure Span Gateways, virus scanning and XML gateway validation are included. Endpoints are authenticated with PKI certificates, and the system is fully redundant.

The first part of the IEP to go live transformed the existing Public User Portal into the new IRS.gov. That was followed about a year later by the Registered User Portal, which was integrated into the platform. And a new Transactional Portal Environment allows the IRS to exchange information with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in support of the Affordable Care Act.

The new system has exceeded expectations. In addition to allowing application owners to spin new servers up quickly, developers have better insight into coding challenges. Downtime for business-critical applications has been reduced by nearly 30 percent. The IRS has been able to deploy four new applications to IEP in weeks compared to the months it took with the old system.

And new proactive monitoring allows the IRS staff to detect and resolve issues in about half the time, keeping  stakeholders informed about critical tickets.

“We built a modern infrastructure for close to 60 applications without interrupting the services to taxpayers,” said Cecil Hua, acting director of enterprise technology implementation. “That’s akin to changing the engines of a 747 and transforming it to a 777 while it’s flying.”

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