Desperate to avoid a repeat of ‘Censusfail 2016’, the Australian Bureau of Statistics received $38 million from government coffers to ensure the success of 2021. Will it prove to be money well spent?
Last year, consultancy firm PwC was contracted by the ABS for $1.5 million to develop and safeguard the Census IT system for this year’s national survey which happens in a few weeks.
Without question, the primary objective for PwC is to protect it from cyber infringements like the distributed denial-of-service attacks which brought the Census to its knees in 2016, costing then IT contractors IBM over $30 million.
Via government partnership, the ABS is working with the nation’s surveillance intelligence agency, the Australian Signals Directorate on a range of cybersecurity protection measures and security assurance activities in support of the Census.
As part of a mass exodus of senior consultants at PwC last year, its chief technology director Jane Livesey left the company for a similar role at technology firm Cognizant – Hardly welcome news for the ABS; at the time only a year out from its most salient Census count to date. This upheaval led other consultants to argue that the new structure did not match PwC’s original offering for Census 2021.
Less than six months after Livesey’s abrupt departure, the Australian National Audit Office issued a review of the ABS’ planning and development for Census 2021, which it found “partly effective” at the time. As for its online infrastructure:
“The IT framework that the ABS has established for the 2021 Census is largely appropriate. However, the ABS’ implementation of its IT framework is not complete. The ABS has not established a systematic process for managing risks associated with non-compliance.”
In response to the ANAO audit, the ABS assured that the level of system development was as expected and in accordance with current plans at the time.
In the wake of the digital meltdown of 2016, the ABS hired KPMG the following year to conduct an independent alignment review of its IT transformation program.
According to KPMG whistleblower James Eldridge, the review was rigged due to a conflict of interest as the firm was “both reviewing funding of the program and providing assurance services for the program”. He alleged KPMG “removed and watered down widespread internal criticism of the agency’s $257 million IT transformation program”. Eldridge was fired two weeks later.
Funnily enough, the above ANAO report found:
“The ABS has not fully developed processes for ensuring alignment of existing Census systems with its enterprise architectures”. [Emphasis added].