• Overview

    ABR Program at a glance

    The Registrar of the Australian Business Register is responsible for three whole-of-government initiatives:

    • the Australian Business Register (ABR), establishing a business identity through an Australian business number (ABN)
    • Standard Business Reporting (SBR), a standardised way for businesses to interact electronically
    • AUSkey, a credential for online authentication.

    Australian Business Register (ABR)

    The ABR now contains some 7.2 million ABN registrations, and attracts just over 500 million searches a year. We can now confidently say the data is more accurate, reliable and useful.

    The latest ABR survey, conducted between April and June 2015, shows significant improvements to the overall integrity of the Register and the accuracy of key fields since the previous survey in 2014.

    As a result of a focus on improving the integrity of ABR information and improvements to the experience for business, the ABR’s strategic intent of becoming the single, nationally recognised directory for managing business identity is now well on its way to being realised.

    Standard Business Reporting (SBR)

    The government’s investment in SBR is yielding returns through increased productivity and savings for business. While the benefits from SBR have been slower to materialise than expected by the initial business case, the savings to business from the use of SBR is estimated to be in the order of $400 million dollars for 2014–15.

    SBR-enabled transactions – both business to business (B2B) and business to government (B2G) – exceeded 15 million for the first time in 2014-15. Refer to Performance and achievements section on page 6 for more information.

    AUSkey

    Introduced in 2010 to provide the electronic signature for SBR transactions, AUSkey replaced the ATO Digital Certificate underpinned by public key infrastructure (PKI) technology.

    Since then, there has been a considerable growth from the 330,000 ATO specific PKIs to 1.1 million whole-of-government AUSkeys on issue.

    Our research has been unable to identify any other country that has implemented a digital credential that allows business to interact with government that has been so widely adopted.  Almost one third of Australian businesses use AUSkey, representing more than 90% of the economy.

    Registrar’s review

    I am pleased to present the 2014–15 Report of the Australian Business Registrar.

    In last year’s review I made a commitment to focus on three objectives for 2014–15:

    • improve the experience of businesses dealing with government with an emphasis on reducing red tape to contribute to cost reductions
    • address ABR data quality issues
    • increase the adoption of Standard Business Reporting (SBR).

    Substantial progress has been made in each of these areas over the past 12 months.

    With the benefit of changes made to the ABR system in 2014, start-up businesses are finding it faster and easier to register and obtain an ABN, enabling them to get on with business immediately. In this period, 100,000 extra start-up businesses succeeded in getting their ABN on the spot.

    Seventy-eight per cent of registrants now receive an instant decision, and further improvements have been identified that will increase on-the-spot online application approvals to 90 per cent.

    These changes already made are estimated to reduce the financial impacts associated with delayed issuing of ABNs by $30.6 million to business and $17.2 million to government over 2012–13 levels.

    The latest ABR survey, conducted between April and June 2015, shows significant improvements to the overall integrity of the Register and the accuracy of key fields since the previous survey in 2014. The latest survey found that:

    • 80% of ABNs on the ABR are in use, compared to 72% in 2013–14, representing a 29% reduction in the number of redundant ABNs on the Register – particularly among those held by sole traders
    • for ABNs in use, the key data fields are more accurate across the board, with improvements in correctness ranging from 3-20%, with the biggest improvements in the correctness of the entity's legal name, business and postal addresses and industry activity.

    Acceptance of the AUSkey authentication solution has expanded to support transactions with 27 government agencies offering 55 online services between them. There were just under 620,000 businesses with an AUSkey at 30 June 2015, a 24% increase on the previous year, while the number of authentications in 2014–15 increased by 41% to 62.7 million.

    We are seeing results in the take-up of SBR and can see it enhancing productivity and providing savings to both business and government:

    • 15 million transactions using SBR-enabled software
    • Estimated savings to business of $400 million in 2014-15
    • Software providers with SBR-enabled products available increased by 10% this year (from 54 to 59).These provide software to 90% of the business community
    • Government forms that can be lodged through SBR-enabled software increased by 7% to 554
    • All APRA reporting is SBR-enabled
    • In excess of 85,000 employers used SBR-enabled SuperStream, with more than 2.4 million contributions processed, in June alone
    • Work is on track to deliver over 90% of business tax return lodgments using tax agents via SBR-enabled software by 2016.

    In short, as the use of SBR-enabled software increases, it reduces the time businesses need to spend preparing government reports from hours to minutes in most cases.

    Chris Jordan signature

    Chris Jordan AO
    Registrar of the Australian Business Register

    How we performed in 2014-15

    The ABR Program constitutes Program 1.3 of the Treasury Portfolio Budget Statement (PBS) for the ATO. Our performance for the year is reported against these three deliverables in the following pages.

    • Increased use by business and government of a complete and single source of business information for planning and service delivery
    • Broader adoption and use of consistent information exchange standards by business and government
    • Provision of more-streamlined online interactions between business and government including a single business entry point.

    Our focus continues on reducing time and monetary costs of regulatory burden to business by delivering digital services that boost productivity.

    Increased use of the ABR

    Deliverable: increased use by business and government of a complete and single source of business information for planning and service delivery

    In 2014–15, we have made significant headway in increasing the use of the Register by business and government as a source of business identity information.

    How did we achieve this?

    Improving the integrity of the Register

    A major program of work was undertaken in 2014–15 to improve the integrity of the Register. This involved removing 1.2 million redundant ABNs and updating a large number of records. Another key area of improvement was the industry (ANZSIC) codes, which resulted in a 47% improvement on last year.

    This work is making the Register a more valuable and usable resource for the community as a whole. For example, a Queensland department is looking to use the Register 'as a single source of truth' by integrating it with its customer relationship management system (see Queensland department to use AR as its own register, page 16).

    The New South Wales Government is also working closely with us to pilot the use of the ABR as the register of business information, reducing duplication and costs in maintaining multiple business registers across the State departments.

    For business and the community

    There were just under 517 million searches of the Register in 2014–15 (an increase of 23% over the previous year). To put it another way, ABN Lookup is searched 17 times every second on average.

    A major innovation that increased the use of the ABR by the community is the introduction of an SBR-enabled accounting software product that allows a business to verify an ABN in its invoicing software.

    For government

    ABR data is now available to government agencies through an online portal and is updated weekly. This is in addition to our regular channels: data disc and bulk data exchange.

    Another 28 government agencies signed agreements with us to access non-public data, an increase of 15.8% to 490 agencies in total. And 150 government agencies made around 58 million searches of the Register via direct web access.

    We consulted to better understand the relatively low levels of data use. Where usage was low, those agencies told us they didn't have the technological capability to download and query large data sets. The other key reason for low use was generally low levels of understanding of how to use data to support their business functions. Our new online search tool, expected to be available in early 2016, will improve the accessibility and usability of ABR data. Read more about this on page 16.

    Above and beyond that, we are exploring the feasibility of providing an interface to the ABR as this would enable real-time access for partner agencies. This could allow them to integrate the Register directly into customer relationship management and business systems that they use to provide services to their business customers. We are working with several agencies on prototypes of such systems. Refer to page 20 for more on this development.

    Growth in public and non-public use of ABR data is depicted in the figures below.

    Figure 1: Non-public ABR data access and download

    Figure 1: Non-public ABR data access and downloads

    Figure 2: Public ABR data access and downloads


    Figure 2: Public ABR data access and downloads

    Adoption of ABR Program digital services

    Deliverable: Broader adoption and use of consistent information exchange standards by business and government

    Information exchange standards endorsed by government and industry – formally known as Standard Business Reporting (SBR) – is a digital infrastructure through which business information is captured once and re-used without further processing for multiple business-to-business and business-to-government transactions.

    SBR simplifies reporting by providing a common list of definitions for terms used in legislation and on government forms. It also includes standardised messaging protocols for the exchange of information between business and government.

    SBR-enabled business software provides business with an efficient and accurate reporting capability by automating the preparation and lodgement of government reports directly from business software.

    This reduces the cost and time it takes for businesses to report to government. In addition, the same information can be re-used by businesses in dealing with other businesses.

    How did we achieve this?

    • the number of SBR-enabled forms available for business to report to government has increased by 7% to 554
    • the number of software providers with SBR-enabled products available increased by 19% to 64. These providers count around 90% of the business community as their clients
    • the number of software providers developing SBR products increased by 32% to 223
    • the use of AUSkey has grown by 24%.
    • These achievements are reflected in the figures below: growth in use of SBR, number of AUSkey authentications and number of agencies and online services using AUSkey.

    Figure 3: Growth in the use of SBR

    Figure 3: Growth in the use of SBR

    The SBR and AUSkey connection

    Adoption of SBR information standards has been made possible by the availability of a government-endorsed and widely accepted authentication solution in the form of AUSkey.

    There were just under 620,000 businesses with an AUSkey at 30 June 2015, a 20% increase on the previous year.

    SBR, and specifically AUSkey, were used in an estimated 15 million business-to-government and business-to-business transactions. This is an almost three-fold increase on last year’s estimated 4.3 million transactions.

    Figure 4: Number of AUSkey authentications

    Figure 4: Number of AUSkey authentications

     

     

    The figure above shows the trend in the use of AUSkey over the last three years. The recent significant growth in authentications can in part be attributed to the adoption of AUSkey by the Department of Education and Training for use in the Unique Student Identifier service, as indicated in the red section in the chart above.

    The figure below shows the number of government services that can be accessed via AUSkey has been increasing steadily.

    Figure 5: Number of agencies and online services using AUSkey

    Figure 5: Number of agencies and online services using AUSkey

    Contributing to productivity improvements across business and government

    Deliverable: Provision of more-streamlined online interactions between business and government including a single business entry point

    In 2014–15 the ABR Program has worked collaboratively across all levels of government, commercial software providers and industry to ensure we create a consistent user experience for Australian businesses across the government’s digital services landscape.

    How did we achieve this?

    We continued to work with key stakeholders to encourage adoption of our products, standards and services and to assist them in helping businesses reduce costs and increase productivity – specifically by streamlining the way they interact with government.

    In 2014-15, 47,606 entities lodged reports to government agencies for 97,828 businesses using SBR-enabled software. This represented a 127% increase in the number of entities lodging using SBR-enabled software over 2013–14. Of these, 2,516 lodged solely on behalf of other organisations, an increase of 109%.

    There were 6.9 million business-to-government transactions through the SBR gateway (including SuperTICK), compared to 3.8 million in 2013-14, an increase of 81.5%.

    Figure 6: Businesses using SBR-enabled software for reporting to government

    Figure 6: Businesses using SBR-enabled software for reporting to government

     

    Our reason for being: reducing costs to business

    All of the above deliverables contribute to reduced business costs and greater business productivity and competitiveness.

    Savings to business will accrue from improvements in the process of applying for an ABN, and being able to start business sooner.

    As a result of improvements to the registration system, over 100,000 extra start-up businesses got their registration instantly in 2014–15, resulting in savings of $30.6 million for business and $17.2 million for government.

    Figure 7: Savings for business due to faster issuing of ABNs

    Figure 7: Savings for business due to faster issuing of ABNs

    We have also estimated the savings arising from the use of SBR-enabled software for reporting to government.

    Along with its use for business-to-government transactions, SBR also underpins business-to-business transactions between employers and super funds under the SuperStream initiative.

    The savings to business in reporting time arising from the use of SBR for 2014–15 was estimated to be around $400 million.

    Figure 8: SBR savings to the community

    Figure 8: SBR savings to the community

    Looking ahead to 2015–16

    Partnering across government

    Work is underway to advance the use of the ABR as the complete and single source of business information across all levels of government for use in planning and service delivery.

    We are working with three federal government agencies on their adoption of SBR and with others that are willing to prototype using the ABR as their own database.

    Better access to the register

    A new digital ABR search tool, ABR Explorer, will be made available to agencies in 2016. It will increase the value of the ABR to partner agencies by improving the accessibility and usability of ABR data.

    ABR Explorer will enable more sophisticated analysis of business registration information to assist with infrastructure planning, service delivery and policy development functions, and allow users to generate immediately usable maps, graphs and summary tables.

    To maximise the value of the Register, we will continue to enhance the quality of the data. We will also implement ongoing improvements to the IT infrastructure to improve the client experience. For businesses this means continued enhancements to the registration process. For government agencies it means better access and therefore use of the data.

    Standards adoption and authentication

    We are now looking for more government agencies to adopt SBR and make their services accessible through acceptance of the standards-based approach.

    We are also continuing to support government agencies wishing to use AUSkey as the means to authenticate access to their services.

    While improvements to the usability of AUSkey are inevitable, other technological developments and innovative services will become available to enhance interaction with government. These include services such as voice authentication. However these services will not replace machine-to-machine authentication, or business-to-government authentication more generally.

    Making it easier for industry to work with us

    We are improving the experience for software developers by automating registration and other interactions with us where this makes dealing with us easier.

    We will build on work started to fix the simple things, such as automating our registration process to cater for the increased number of software developers wanting to develop their products using SBR.

    Transforming tax agent lodgments

    The ATO is transitioning its ELS (Electronic Lodgment Service), used by tax agents to lodge about 20 million returns and other forms a year, to an SBR-enabled gateway.

    This will enable agents to lodge returns and other forms directly from the commercially available SBR-enabled software that they use on a daily basis in their practice instead of being required to use an ATO specific IT system.

    SBR-enabled products are already available to prepare and lodge business activity statements and company returns and schedules, and individual tax return form specifications were released to software providers between August and December 2014.

    Marketing

    Our marketing efforts will continue to target agencies across all levels of government, software developers and the business community to encourage adoption of ABR Program services and tools.

    For adoption to be successful, agencies need to be willing to change existing business processes and move to digital services. This in turn brings opportunities for software developers to improve their existing products and services and develop new and innovative products. We also need to demonstrate to businesses the value in purchasing or upgrading to SBR-enabled business software.

    • Last modified: 07 Dec 2015QC 987