The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) will be making a major investment in technology over the next three years as it prepares for Census 2016, and the agency’s Procurement Plan shows it intends to approach the market this quarter for a major component of this work.
The agency’s plan lists six Census related procurements, with the agency expecting to approach the market in quarter one of 2014-15 for a “Prime Partner for Census 2016 development and implementation”.
The Census is the agency’s largest statistical collection and the ABS is implementing a new model for the 2016 Census, looking to achieve cost savings and to improve data quality by reducing the workload of field staff and increasing uptake of eCensus.
When the ABS first introduced an eCensus option in 2006 8.4% of household opted to submit the census online. For Census 2011 online submission increased to 33.1% of households. The ABS is aiming to more than double that to 65% of households submitting online for Census 2016.
ICT procurement for the new model
The 2013-14 Budget outlined an allocation of $69.3 million over four years to allow the ABS to transition to the new model, including $33.6 million in capital funding for “systems development for the new census model.”
Additional to the ‘Prime Partner for Census 2016 development and implementation’ the other planned procurements for the Census are:
- eCollection Capability for Census
- 2016 Census Contact Centre Management and related technology
- Performance and load testing - eCensus, eForms
- Accessibility - eCensus, eForms - retest, certify
- Security - external testing - eCensus, eForms
Preparations for the Census 2016 are well underway and ICT procurement for the project has already commenced.
According to the tender the ABS was seeking a supplier to validate its assumptions around ICT staffing/capability, risk management and budget for the census and potentially provide “assistance in developing a statement of requirement for any tender process that may occur as a result of this process.”
The ABS has also approached the market for Paper Form Request IVR “seeking offers for the hosting of a purpose built, automated touch tone telephone system to manage requests for paper forms for the 2016 Census of Population and Housing.”
The new model
Collection procedures will change significantly under the new model. In many areas of Australia households will received a secure access code for the online form in the mail, followed by reminders also sent by mail. Householders will also be able to request the census in paper form if required and will be able to mail the form back.
In these areas Census field officers will only visit households which have not returned either an online or paper form, greatly reducing the number of visits to households.
In other areas where online completion may be difficult, households will automatically be supplied with paper census forms which can be mailed back to the ABS.
The agency anticipates that there will be an increase in the level of technology in the field to support the Census delivery and collection activities.
The ABS has been conducting field testing in preparation for the 2016 Census, with tests conducted in Canberra in 2012 and the Greater Geelong region in 2013.
A test of approximately 100,000 households is being conducted in Western Australia and South Australia from July to September 2014. The Census test night is Tuesday 5 August.
ABS Western Australia Regional Director Tom Joseph said “The new delivery and collection procedures aim to increase online participation among households and allow us to process data more efficiently,”
“In 2016, the ABS anticipates more than 65 per cent of households will complete the Census online, avoiding a personal visit from a Census Field Officer, helping the environment, and saving taxpayer money,” Mr Joseph said.
IBM first built the eCensus system for the ABS for the 2006 Census. The company was contracted in December 2004 to design, build, test and deploy a web-based application to enable online submissions for Census 2006. IBM also hosted the eCensus application for 2006.
eCensus was a success in 2006 with 100% availability and good response times throughout the census night. The solution won the 2007 Australian Excellence in e-Government Award.
“The majority of feedback the ABS has received on this initiative from people completing their Census form online has been very positive,” said the then Assistant director for the eCensus project, Peter Clark.
Following on from their initial success, the ABS and IBM collaborated on enhancements to the original 2006 eCensus solution to create the 2011 eCensus.
According to AusTender published contracts the ABS had $10.7 million in contracts with IBM to support the 2011 Census.
“IBM redeveloped the 2006 eCensus application for the 2011 Census using the latest web development platforms,” said Tim Gunnell, Public Sector General Manager, IBM Australia.
“The redevelopment was funded by the reduction in the required hardware at no additional cost to the ABS. The resulting application can now be used by the ABS for all its ongoing survey activities. For example, eCensus technology hosted by ABS in Canberra is currently being used to run the 2011 Agricultural Census.”