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Transforming Taxpaying Experiences at IRAS

Fri, 02/09/2024 Angelitha Jayaraj
Transforming Taxpaying Experiences at IRAS

In its commitment to transform taxpayers' experiences, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) continuously strives to deliver services with innovation and agility in an ever-evolving digital landscape. This dedication is underscored by the organisation's strategic embrace of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (DSAI) as the driving forces behind its transformative journey.

At the heart of IRAS’ digital transformation lies the Inland Revenue Interactive Network (IRIN), a substantial in-house enterprise system designed to navigate the tax administration process seamlessly. From a user-friendly web portal employed by taxpayers to interfaces with external partners, and back-end processing, IRIN epitomises the agency’s dedication to efficiency and accessibility.

One of the key architects shaping the future of IRIN is Jonathan Yap, a recipient of the IRAS Postgraduate Scholarship. As a Senior Infocomm Specialist, he actively contributes to the development of the next iteration IRIN characterised by the utilisation of cutting-edge technologies, including cloud-native solutions and a microservices architecture. Jonathan is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Software Management at Carnegie Mellon University Silicon Valley. He aims to deepen his knowledge and skills, with the ultimate goal of delivering impactful technological solutions at IRAS.

At the forefront of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (DSAI) initiatives, IRAS leverages data analytics, behavioural insights, and design to spearhead transformations and enhancements in compliance strategies. Central to this pivotal role is Wu You, an IRAS undergraduate scholar who started in IRAS as a Senior Analyst in the Insights and Solutions Branch. Her responsibilities involved utilising advanced analytics to drive impactful changes and developing an organisation-wide compliance strategy. With a Master of Science (Computational Science and Engineering) from Harvard University, she currently serves as a Manager in the Infocomm Technology & Planning Branch and is part of the ICT management team which oversees the upgrading of the in-house enterprise.

We chat with Jonathan and Wu You to explore their passion for their respective areas of work and gain valuable insights into how IRAS is advancing the frontier of digital innovation in tax administration.

Tell us about your various roles. What aspects of your job have been most fulfilling?

Jonathan: Navigating various roles within technology, specifically in application delivery and architecture, has been an enriching journey for me. Among these roles, serving as a scrum master during the IRIN 3 Phase 2 – Stamp Duty project stands out as the most fulfilling experience in my career at IRAS.

Being part of the team that laid the groundwork for IRIN's new microservice architecture presented challenges and immense satisfaction. We collaborated with the system user teams and took on the task of reviewing existing system processes and workflows. This involved a comprehensive revamp aimed at improving efficiency, enhancing performance, and elevating the overall user experiences for both internal and external users.

The role not only demanded technical expertise but also required a deep understanding of the intricacies of our existing systems. Overcoming these challenges alongside the dedicated team fostered a sense of achievement that has been instrumental in my journey at IRAS. The valuable learnings from this experience have significantly contributed to my professional growth, allowing me to apply newfound knowledge and skills to various aspects of my work.

Wu You: In my early days as a data analyst, getting my model to run and train successfully, after wrestling with bugs and syntax errors, offered me a great sense of fulfilment. Over time, the fulfilment came not just from coding, but also from creating. When I initially introduced search and retrieval into our question-answering chatbot, I was already excited by the new applications that could be built. When ChatGPT dropped and text generation technologies advanced rapidly this year, I further introduced Retrieval Augmented Generation to the team, and possibilities grew endlessly. The continual progression of enhancing our tools and technologies is a source of great satisfaction.

Are there any projects or initiatives at IRAS you’ve participated in that standout to you?

Jonathan: My involvement in the IRIN 3 Phase 2 – Stamp Duty project is a notable example.

As a scrum master, I spearheaded a team of developers responsible for implementing the Financial Module. Simultaneously, we were tasked with laying the architectural foundation for subsequent project phases. It was undoubtedly a challenging endeavour, but the skills and experience I had accumulated in my previous roles equipped me to navigate the complexities effectively.

Leading the team, my focus was on ensuring that the Financial Module not only met the user's specifications but also operated with optimal efficiency. This involved leveraging my technical expertise to streamline system processes, enhance functionalities, and improve overall performance. Despite the inherent challenges, the team’s collaborative efforts resulted in the successful implementation of the module, setting the stage for a more robust and efficient enterprise system.

The experience gained from this project has further enriched my understanding of intricate technological challenges and reinforced my commitment to driving positive change through technology within the organisation.

Wu You: One standout experience was a collaboration on fraud detection with the Suspicious Transaction Reporting Office (STRO), also known as the financial intelligence unit of the Singapore Police Force (SPF). Together, we set up data exchanges and built analytics solutions to detect businesses that make illegal GST refund claims. It was like being in a real-life crime novel but with more spreadsheets. I found myself part of a multi-disciplinary team, including the investigation officers from both SPF and IRAS, who shared insights that went beyond the realm of numbers and charts. It was rewarding to witness our model successfully flag suspicious entities and bring tangible benefits to real-world fraud detection efforts.

Interesting! Can you tell us how you plan to contribute to technological advancements within IRAS in the future?

Jonathan:  Having observed IRAS's dedication to adopting new technologies and making strategic transformations, I am motivated to leverage the knowledge and skillsets acquired during my graduate programme to uphold and elevate these high standards. Specifically, my focus will be on actively participating in development projects aimed at creating and delivering IT solutions for both our internal and external users.

In the rapidly evolving information technology landscape, digitalisation stands out as a key driver in reshaping how businesses operate. Drawing from my experiences and learnings gained during the course of my graduate programme, I aim to bring new perspectives to the table and enrich discussions surrounding the integration of digital solutions. I see this as a crucial step in ensuring that IRAS remains adaptive and responsive to the changing needs of our stakeholders.

Wu You: IRAS is currently migrating our IT enterprise system from an on-premises monolithic architecture to a microservices architecture on the government cloud so that we can improve the scalability and agility of our services. It is a significant undertaking, and I’m interested in how we can incorporate AI into the software development lifecycle so that we can carry out our build and test processes more efficiently.

That’s very ambitious! Finally, do you have any advice for students seeking a tech career with IRAS?

Jonathan: For students aspiring to pursue a tech career, my advice is simple: "Don't be afraid to try."

Embarking on a tech career can be challenging but undeniably fulfilling. The essence lies in getting your hands dirty, diving into real-world problems, and exploring the most efficient ways to leverage technology for optimal outcomes. If you desire to take on new challenges and seek a rewarding tech career, IRAS offers many opportunities.

Personally, I've had the privilege of trying various roles at IRAS, each presenting a chance to push my limits and reach new heights.

IRAS, as an organisation, places significant emphasis on staff's career development and ensures that skills remain relevant in the industry. The management at IRAS is supportive, actively aligning staff's career passions and interests with their job scopes. This approach ensures a meaningful and satisfying career journey for individuals who choose to be part of the organisation.

Wu You: Tech is a rapidly evolving field, the more you know, the more valuable and versatile you become. At IRAS, you will find this dynamic nature of technology in all the ongoing transformations to our IT systems and AI capabilities – you will never be short on challenging problems that are cross-cutting and push the boundaries of what’s possible!

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