The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is seeking advice on how to best build its computer systems for the 2016 Census, an event it has previously indicated will be a predominantly online affair.
Tender documents released by the ABS this week have called for bids from technology experts to undertake the Census 2016 ICT Capability Review, a process that will independently scrutinise the Agency’s own technology strategy and infrastructure to make sure the eCensus works when handling its biggest audience yet.
2016 to be mostly online
The sheer scale of making a mainly digital Census a reality is, in technology terms, a huge undertaking that would challenge the capacity and resilience of even the biggest private sector organisations.
On Census Night a very large section of the population - literally millions of people - will pile onto the website at approximately the same time to fill in dozens of sensitive and confidential questions.
The ABS tender documents state that it is aiming for a primarily online response for the 2016 Census, making it the Australia’s first digital Census.
“While this approach will lead to significant processing efficiencies for the Bureau, it also comes with some significant risks, particularly around data capture and the ICT infrastructure requirements associated with capturing Census information from approximately 6.5 million households in a short enumeration period,” the documents state.
According to the Bureau's own reckoning, the 2011 Census cost about $440 million, or about $19 per person, with the largest single cost being $159 million in salaries paid to around 43,000 people to help deliver and collect the Census forms.
The 2011 eCensus proved to be a resounding success, surpassing anticipated take-up rates at 33 per cent, a figure that went far beyond the 10 per cent of digitised returns in 2006. The highest uptake was in the ACT on 44 per cent, followed by Western Australia on 35.4 per cent.
The Northern Territory had the lowest take-up rate on 27 per cent.