The Inland Revenue Department, moving in step with the Hong Kong Government's Digital 21 initiative, has started a HK$45 million project to speed up the processing of tax returns. The department awarded the contract in May to information technology consulting and services firm Atos Origin, which expects to complete the project by March next year. Under the terms of its contract, which were announced yesterday, the Netherlands-based firm will also manage and provide regular technical support over the next 10 years. Atos Origin Hong Kong general manager Witman Hung said: 'The new system will establish a comprehensive, centralised repository for all documents, enabling faster retrieval of data and quicker response to inquiries.' He said the project would mark a high level of operational improvement for the department, emulating recent advances by government revenue agencies in Australia and the United States. 'The [Inland Revenue Department's] document management system will deliver more efficient service to taxpayers through a reliable, scalable infrastructure that can support the agency's growing volume of daily transactions,' he said. At present, the department handles three million tax returns and nine million related paper documents a year. It also manages an increasing number of electronic forms as the government's Digital 21 Initiative promoted more efficient services using the Internet and other means of electronic data exchange. For the 2000-2001 financial period, revenue collection reached HK$100.4 billion - up HK$6.4 billion, or 7.2 per cent - from the previous period. Profits tax and salaries tax combined made up 69 per cent of the revenue collected. The document management system will enable the department's offices to access a single document for various purposes, including tax assessment, tax audit, processing of objections, as well as tax enquiry and collection. Raymond Ng, Atos Origin project manager for the department's system, said the document-management infrastructure would run on IBM Unix servers, using the IBM-AIX operating system. The set-up includes an IBM storage area network system. Mr Ng said Inland Revenue IRD had adopted IBM technology as standard for its mainframe computer, and as were many other IT sub-systems. The interface sub-system for the document-management system is based on the IBM WebSphere application server, while its 1.5-terabyte capacity database is based on Oracle8i software. Mr Hung said: 'The new integrated system will efficiently manage different formats of documents and data, as well as establish a single and comprehensive repository of information to speed up access and promote document sharing within the organisation.' At the core of the system, Atos Origin has chosen FileNet's content management software. The document-capture sub-system is based on automated data-processing software called TELEform from United States-based Cardiff Software. The project will initially incorporate a pilot work flow management system for about 20 users to enable department staff to gain working experience before full implementation of the Atos Origin management system. When the project is completed, the system will support 470 users handling individual and property tax returns, as well as related documents. In its first year of operation, the system will be able to process more than 22 million A4 forms and 250,000 electronic documents. Mr Hung said: 'The new system will also deliver cost savings in several areas. It will eliminate the manual tracking of paper documents as well as reduce the maintenance costs of [the] existing imaging system and the need for consumables such as microfilm and printer toner. 'With the conversion of paper documents into digitised images, the accommodation space needed by [Inland Revenue] for storage will also be reduced.'