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Tax System Upgrades Increase Speed, Efficiency for Residents

State financial systems that are user-friendly and save money are going to get good reviews from taxpayers. In Idaho, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, revenue agencies have worked to update systems on time and under budget.

close-up of the U.S. Federal Reserve System seal on paper
In tax system modernization, there is perhaps more incentive than in any other area of government to get it done and get it done right. That incentive is, of course, money.

Indeed, while all government modernization is typically done with the aim of eventually saving money — usually by upping efficiency, decreasing labor — tax and revenue systems link directly to states’ primary sources of income. Done well, modernization increases the speed and efficiency with which debts are paid. At the same time, nearly everyone interacts with state tax systems, creating one of the furthest-reaching opportunities to foster a good government experience.

Put simply, taxes literally pay the bills, and if states do this well, constituents notice. Just ask Wisconsin. 


One taxpayer was so appreciative of Wisconsin’s modernized tax systems, they sang a song. The state has a phone survey it asks users to take, complete with a chance to leave a voicemail. And it was there, recalls Wisconsin Department of Revenue CIO Rick Offenbecher, that one Wisconsinite chose to sing — and play guitar — about the department’s good service.

This, of course, is an extreme example, but the Wisconsin Department of Revenue has seen an uptick in efficiency and resident satisfaction across the board. It’s an uptick that the state worked long and hard for, dating back to 2005 when its modernization began.

It was then that Wisconsin began implementing FAST Enterprises’ GenTax product, integrating and replacing more than 35 computer systems, none of which talked to each other. This work took six years and 11 rollouts, all of which were completed on time and on budget.

We’ve come a long way from the COBOL green-screen system we were using just a few years ago.
Since then, Wisconsin has migrated its tax data warehouse into the new system, incorporated an unclaimed property program and introduced an ID verification feature. The new system has about 7.4 million active user accounts spanning 100 different tax account types, including income, business and sales. During tax season, it averages 1 million transactions per day.

The list of efficiencies is a long one, including combining everything from spreadsheets to client/server applications into one system, putting all taxpayer documents in one place, and only having to train employees on a single system. When a customer calls in, for example, the state’s service rep can see all their information in one spot, a far cry from the days of 35 different systems.

And while the foundational modernization was technically completed in 2011, work never really stopped. 

After 2011, Offenbecher says the Department of Revenue went into “support and maintenance” mode, regularly implementing new enhancements based on employee ideas. Last year alone, he notes, there were more than 1,000 enhancements made, ranging from the use of PINs to prevent fraud to having an internal application for other state departments to collect debts.

Wisconsin now has an automated workflow that allows any employee to submit ideas for enhancements. Ideas are evaluated based on things like how many people they will impact, or whether they generate more revenue for the state. A governance group then meets once a quarter to discuss ideas, and the process goes from there.

“Those kind of projects, for many years unfortunately, never bubbled up to the top because they were so small,” Offenbecher says. “Getting those projects done is extremely important to employee satisfaction, making sure they feel valued for their ideas.”

The department now feels like it can’t stop modernizing systems, even if it wanted to.

“We went from being change resistant,” Offenbecher says, “to in some regard being addicted to change.” 


Wisconsin, of course, is not alone in modernizing tax and revenue systems in recent years. This has taken place in most states, from New Hampshire to Idaho.

In New Hampshire, the Legislature audits state agencies for potential improvement. Audits in both 2008 and 2014 identified issues with New Hampshire’s legacy tax systems, which had been in place for 30 years. It was a COBOL system on a mainframe, said Lindsey Stepp, the state’s revenue department commissioner.

Following the 2014 audit, a true effort to modernize got underway, one that involved research, requests for proposals, soliciting in-depth input from employees who use the systems, on-site demos and more. In 2018, New Hampshire — like Wisconsin — entered into a contract with FAST Enterprises around its GenTax product, also used by nearby states such as Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont. 

Following the contract, there were three rollouts (again, all on time and on budget), including the 2021 launch of a new outward-facing user portal called Granite Tax Connect. Stepp says that to date, that portal has just under 30,000 taxpayers using it, as well as about 2,700 third-party tax preparers. There are many examples of increased efficiency as a result, chief among them the time the state spends approving changes based on IRS audits. That has gone from about two hours to less than 30 minutes.

“We get back about an hour and a half for any reported change we make,” Stepp says. “... We’ve come a long way from the COBOL green-screen system we were using just a few years ago.”


Another state, Idaho, is preparing new systems modernizations of its own, said Renee Eymann, senior public information officer for the Idaho State Tax Commission. Chief among these is a new, user-friendly website that was made in collaboration with Access Idaho.

Idaho has also worked with FAST Enterprises for years, having used GenTax as its processing system since 2002. Updates have continued on the way the state uses that throughout that period. For example, in 2022 Idaho updated GenTax to enable taxpayers with beer and wine permits to e-file those returns for the first time. This year, GenTax was updated so taxpayers can apply online for property tax relief, a program that the state hopes to make entirely paperless by 2024.

And the benefits help the state as well.

“We can do more thorough reviews with less manual effort,” Eymann said. 

In the wake of this ongoing modernization, the tax folks can more quickly and efficiently ensure that filings across the state are on time and on budget.

This story from our March 2023 magazine is part of a larger look at modernizing state systems. Click here to read the rest of the feature.
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.