Taking the census online

By 19 December, 2013 11

Government News brings word of plans by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to do away with the messy business of talking to people when it compiles the 2016 census.

Tender documents released to the market 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 scrutinize the agency’s own technology strategy and infrastructure to make sure the eCensus doesn’t get stage fright on a night in front of its biggest audience yet.

While the digitisation delivery of government services is becoming increasingly taken for granted, the sheer scale of making a mainly digital Census a reality is, in technology terms, a gargantuan undertaking that would easily challenge the capacity and resilience of even the biggest private sector organisations.

What makes the undertaking such a big ask is that a very large section of the population – literally millions of people – all pile onto a website at approximately the same time to fill in dozens of sensitive and confidential questions.

The sheer volume of traffic hitting ABS’ servers on Census night has previously been compared to the equivalent of a massive denial of service, a load so big that years of planning and testing are required well in advance of the ‘big night in’ so that services stay up and running smoothly.

Plus with checkboxes no cheeky buggers can write “Jedi” in for religion.

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11 Responses to Taking the census online
#1
davo10111:21 am, 19 Dec 13

Wow what a breathless article about what is essentially:

Old System: Census collector left secure access code and form at your house. Came back to collect the form if you didn’t do it on-line.

New System: Secure access code is mailed to your house. Form mailed to you if required. Census collector follows up if you don’t do it on-line or mail form back.

Result: Most census collectors replaced by Australia Post.

#2
HiddenDragon11:33 am, 19 Dec 13

And if they’re serious about doing away with “messy business”, saving public funds and getting more representative survey results, they will extend this to their intrusive household surveys.

#3
AlpineViper10:37 am, 20 Dec 13

#2, A number of monthly and quarterly surveys already have an online option. Monthly population surveys being one of them.

#4
agent_clone11:31 am, 21 Dec 13

So how would they be capturing the technophobes of Australia? A lady that lives near my parents doesn’t have a computer, and has no desire to own one. She may even have stopped working prior to being forced to use one (I’m not sure on this though). i.e. How are they knowing that a form needs to be mailed to your house?

#5
Masquara1:52 pm, 21 Dec 13

agent_clone said :

So how would they be capturing the technophobes of Australia? A lady that lives near my parents doesn’t have a computer, and has no desire to own one. She may even have stopped working prior to being forced to use one (I’m not sure on this though). i.e. How are they knowing that a form needs to be mailed to your house?

Previous census questions asked whether households had internet access.

#6
IrishPete2:45 pm, 21 Dec 13

I’d be surprised if there wasn’t still an opportunity to answer “Jedi”…

IP

#7
davo1014:09 pm, 21 Dec 13

agent_clone said :

So how would they be capturing the technophobes of Australia?

Errr…

davo101 said :

Census collector follows up if you don’t do it on-line or mail form back.

#8
AsparagusSyndrome4:21 pm, 21 Dec 13

By 2016 I should have finished my Jedi training. I’ll be entering ‘Jedi’ into the first blank text box I find on the online form. I hope that doesn’t crash their system.

#9
Henry824:34 pm, 21 Dec 13

i wonder if the “online form” could be completed offline (rather that continual requests for new pages), then send in all the answers right at the end. That would stop people continually hamming the website.

An “offline” app for both ios and android would cut down on the problem. A physical confirmation code you can write down at the end to confirm it’s received by the census servers.

That’s what i’d do, anyway

#10
c_c™7:14 pm, 21 Dec 13

I don’t see this happening smoothly, recall what happened when the ATO tried to overhaul it’s online services. What we got was a stuff up, and then an expensive mess of buggy software.

http://www.zdnet.com/au/revealed-ibms-false-start-on-atos-online-e-tax-overhaul-7000017863/

#11
Jivrashia7:27 pm, 21 Dec 13

Henry82 said :

hamming the website.

A very merry Xmas to you too.

I agree with the “offline” idea.
Also use existing SMTP connection to send the data, as well as some form of encryption (asymmetric encryption keys).

Might be best for ABS to have a chat with ATO and see how eTax cope with the influx of data around November each year.

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