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The remarkable response of revenue agencies in delivering payments and other support to businesses and citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic has completely redefined expectations of what rapid means. Delivering complex and large-scale change at a rapid pace is typical of what revenue agencies do in response to government initiatives. However, agencies are accustomed to a cadence and rate of change focused on annual cycles. In the past, policy, business and technology teams made the required developments in sequence, passing relevant responsibility from one team to the next.

So what’s new, now? Change has to happen in weeks rather than months or years. Instead of one big release, there’s been a series of releases and policy evolutions. Policy evolves from week to week as governments adjust measures to address the economic impacts of COVID-19. Despite all these very different circumstances, revenue agencies succeeded in delivering government COVID-19 responses.

Revenue agencies had to design and implement new non-tax raising schemes, changed rules and processes at speed. What’s more, policy became a moving target. These continuous changes required a more adaptable, iterative and responsive way of working. In short, agencies have had to acquire unprecedented agility to manage the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Speed was of the essence. Financial relief programmes had to be delivered in ways that were quite distinct from the business-as-usual mode of the revenue world. Constant iteration, re-evaluation and reframing – in other words agility – became the new ‘business as usual’. Added to this was the fact that, as covered in my previous blog, revenue agencies had to move the vast majority of their people to work from home. Curiously, this may have aided collaboration between revenue agency teams traditionally working in different departments or even separate buildings. Getting the right people together on a video call, for example, may have proved less challenging than getting them into a meeting room.

Maintaining the pace

So, the big question now is whether success in delivering change at speed will have a longer-term impact. The early signs point to yes. Governments’ expectations of faster delivery by revenue agencies are likely to continue. They’ll want major initiatives that may have taken years to create policy for, plan, implement and deliver, to happen much faster. In addition, there will be an expectation that they can be delivered in a way that accommodates policy evolutions taking place during implementation and operation.

A greater appetite for risk: an opportunity for change?

One critical change determining what happens in future is whether a greater appetite for risk will continue. If it does, it could open the door for lasting change. There’s a new recognition that policy can be changed iteratively. This enables government to adapt to citizens’ evolving needs or concerns. Strikingly, the teething troubles with COVID-19 policies rolled out during the pandemic did not attract huge criticism. It’s possible that those schemes’ generous nature contributed to this tolerance. But governments will have undoubtedly noted that the ability to quickly change and adapt deflects criticism.

Making change stick

What I am certain of is that agencies can now build on their COVID-19 experience to capitalise on new-found agility. That will mean a change in culture and new governance arrangements to bring policy to life differently. The COVID-19 response points the way to more rapid decision-making. Success requires business, policy and technology teams to be brought together earlier to work collaboratively. The priority will be for technology architectures and delivery approaches that enable agility.

Agencies were already on a path to operate at greater speed and make change happen faster. COVID-19 has served to accelerate that agility agenda. New heightened delivery speed and agility expectations are exciting and challenging. Revenue agencies have shown they can meet them.

The key question now is how agencies will adjust the structures, governance and IT architectures and methods to continue to do so? I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts, so please do share them in the comments box below.

 

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