ABS searches for 2021 digital Census provider

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ABS searches for 2021 digital Census provider

Wants secure cloud hosting for solution.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has put out the call for “a secure, fast and simple digital service” to support Australia’s next national survey.

They agency has begun a nine-month search for “highly experienced” providers to develop, host and support the digital service for the 2021 Census.

It will be the fourth Census the ABS has offered citizens the option to complete via a digital service instead of the traditional paper-based form.

But the agency will be keen to avoid a repeat of the 2016 Census debacle that resulted in the electronic survey being initially knocked out by a series of DDoS attacks and then kept offline due to a series of behind-the-scenes failures between ABS and its IT outsourcing partner IBM.

Dubbed '#Censusfail', the high profile bungle resulted in IBM paying back around $30 million to the federal government after then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called in cyber security chief Alastair MacGibbon to take command of the fiasco and restore shattered public trust.

Despite the incident, more than 60 percent of households completed their Census digitally, and the ABS is now preparing for the development of a solution that will support “an anticipated online participation rate of 75 percent of the estimated 2021 Census responses”.

“The ABS expects that the 2021 Census digital service will be the default and most convenient channel for the public to participate in the Census,” tender documents state.

“A trusted, simple, easy to use contemporary experience will be required to ensure the continued growth in online completion, and the ABS continues to strive towards further developing and enhancing its digital capability to support this outcome.”

The supplier will be expected to “bring a high degree of expertise and proven capabilities to support the successful and efficient delivery of the digital online service” for an initial three-year period between February 2019 and June 2022.

The digital service will include the online form that will be “accessible, secure and scalable and which may include up to four different form types” and the primary Census website, as well as associated supporting services.

These will have “the capacity to support variable peak loads” and be designed and implemented in line with agile methodologies and the Digital Transformation Agency’s Digital Service Standard.

ABS’ chief information officer Steve Hamilton said the agency had a strong preference for the solution to be hosted in the cloud, as per the government’s "cloud-first mandate" in the secure cloud strategy.

“We are seeking to provide an engaging and secure service hosted on cost effective and proven cloud infrastructure that delivers the experience, performance and resilience expected by all Australians when transacting online,” he said in a statement.

The agency is also encouraging the use of “open source code and non-proprietary open standards” where possible.

ABS’s Census and statistical services division general manager Chris Libreri said the agency would “work closely with interested suppliers to confirm proposed solutions can deliver high standards of security, reliability and capacity required for the 2021 Census”.

“The need to keep all Census information secure and confidential is, as always, a primary and paramount factor in designing the digital Census,” he said.

“The ABS is actively managing risks (including cyber) for the 2021 Census and is engaging independent experts to provide assurance on the solution, including the Digital Transformation Agency and the Australian Cyber Security Centre,” he said.

ABS and the chosen supplier will be expected to develop a strategy and roadmap to deliver the “secure, trusted and simple online capability that will meet the needs of ... users, and support the Australian Government’s commitment to ‘digital by default’ and ‘privacy by design’.”

They will do this be working closely with the Australian Signals Directorate, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and the DTA

ABS expects to award a contract in mid-2019.

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