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ABS Accounting Software Project

ABS to give back with better data and simpler surveys: New digital project launch for small business

When former ATO trailblazer at the forefront of STP adoption, John Shepherd PSM, takes the lead as General Manager of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) National Data Acquisition Division, you know big things are in the wings.

The March 2023 launch of the first stage of the ABS Accounting Software Project is the public start of these big things. From this launch, eligible small businesses will be able to provide data for their Quarterly Business Indicators Survey (QBIS) through a new web app.

Much like the broader STP goals and integration with accounting software providers, John confirms this ABS project will streamline business reporting and provide more value back to small business. In fact, it is predicted that small business will ultimately get back almost 80% of their time spent on these surveys.

“This will make it easier for businesses and their bookkeepers and accountants to report their data to the ABS using their accounting software and even get data back,” said John.

When John joined the ABS over three years ago, at various industry occasions he was quickly made aware how frustrated businesses are with the ABS Surveys, including QBIS. With business being conscripted into the survey for 18 months, many likened it to jury duty.  

“There really is a burning platform to do something different,” said John. “The hours spent on the form is not much at one time, but that’s an hour or so every quarter that small business doesn’t have.

“It can be stressful and confusing and there’s little feedback on the insights gained from their effort.”

An extensive three-year process of consultation and development then ensued to relieve that impost and give the 2.1 million or so Australian small businesses a bigger say in public policy.

“We want to make this a two-way street,” said John. “Businesses won’t have to worry about logging in to complete ABS surveys with different passwords. There’ll be less questions we’ll need to ask and less double-up of information we’re seeking.

“This will refine the quality and accuracy of data we collect which will make it more useful for government and the small business owner.

 “Survey respondents will also get back comparison data for their specific industry and location, like employee and sales numbers, net profit margins, costs of goods sold and more.

“I expect this will prompt useful conversations with advisors on business viability and growth opportunities.

“Bookkeepers supporting business owners play an important role in this project’s success,” continued John. “Their efforts can broaden awareness about the value of these business insights and help owners onboard and set up this new way of reporting.”  

From March, the Accounting Software Project will roll out over three years through iterative stages. It is being co-designed with industry, with an initial focus on small businesses with less than 100 employees.

The ABS are calling for bookkeepers, accountants, software providers and small businesses to partake to make sure the solution works for businesses.

If you want to get involved, more information is available on the ABS website: Deregulation at the ABS | Australian Bureau of Statistics.

14 Dec 2022
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