Accountant not needed: ATO virtual assistant doles out free Australian tax advice

Meet Alex - Australia’s hardest-working public servant

The Australian Tax Office employed Alex in March this year, and since then she’s done 24-hour shifts and answered thousands of customer queries. But the ATO’s most-productive employee isn’t a real person — she’s an AI-powered virtual assistant.

The ATO has teamed up with Nuance Communications to implement the US software giant’s own virtual assistant tech into the government organisation’s website, which will enable existing-assistant Alex to address customer queries across various categories via text. 

The new enhancement was launched yesterday, and is seen as the next step in the tax organisation’s bid to improve online customer service by enabling customers to self-serve.

Since March, Alex has had more than 950,000 conversations with customers, with a steady increase from the July to October period, when most Australians are scrambling to submit their tax returns. And with this injection of Nuance enhancements, she will continue to evolve as more people interact with her on a daily basis, using advanced resolution technologies and an understanding of language and dialogue.

Robert Schwarz, managing director for Nuance Enterprise, Australia and New Zealand, said the company was “thrilled to provide the ATO with the next phase of intelligent automation technology”. 

He also listed out the pros of using this technology, adding, “Once it is taught something, it never forgets, it’s always polite and it’s available 24/7. And because we capture the essence of the conversation in text format, the ATO can analyse the information at a more granular level.”

Nuance is perhaps best-known for the Swype software keyboard on iOS and Android, as well as the Dragon NaturallySpeaking dictation software. It also provides the ATO with biometric technology for its call centre and mobile application.