First public test for 2021 digital Census platform

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First public test for 2021 digital Census platform

Around 100,000 households enlisted for trial run.

The online platform that millions of Australians will use to complete the 2021 Census will face its first public test today aimed at ironing out any kinks in time for next year.

Around 100,000 households from selected suburbs around the country will take part in the large-scale trial of the Census digital service platform ahead of the real deal in August 2021. 

The dummy run will ensure the new website and online form that has been developed by PwC and the Australian Bureau of Statistics is up to the task after the 2016 eCensus debacle.

The now infamous ‘#Censusfail’ - which damaged the ABS’ reputation for IT, as well as the government's more generally - saw the national survey downed by a series of DDoS attacks.

Unlike the eCensus, which reused components from prior years, the 2021 platform has been rebuilt from the ground up over the past 18 months as a cloud native solution.

Hosted on Amazon Web Services, the solution - which is currently in beta - has been built using an agile approach, in line with the governments’ digital service standard.

An ABS spokesperson told iTnews that like the 2017 same sex marriage survey, the Census platform has been “architected and designed to handle very large loads”.

As previously reported by iTnews, the agency prepared for the online portion of the survey by throwing 100,000 submissions per second at the form to ensure it could stand up to demand.

“Like the system used for the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, the Census solution is hosted on AWS and utilises a highly scalable serverless design,” the spokesperson said.

“The solution has been subjected to performance and load testing commensurate with the transaction volumes associated with the 100,000 sample households.

“ABS will continue to develop the cyber resilience of the solution in advance of the Census main event in August 2021.”

A testing regime that draws on past censuses has been built into the agile process, with dedicated teams focused on co-designing and implementing the testing processes.

The spokesperson said a “combination of open source and off-the-shelf tools” were being used for “accessibility, useability, cyber, functional, integration and performance testing”.

“As the solution is built on the AWS platform, AWS have been involved in key design processes and have separately conducted 'Well Architected' reviews,” the spokesperson added.

“In addition, the solution has been subject to ongoing security reviews and independent external assurance under the ACSC Information Security Registered Assessors Program.”

The beta solution builds on the alpha solution, which was developed and received a pass mark from the DTA prior to PwC’s appointment in May 2019.

Throughout the discovery and alpha phases, the ABS “involved a wide range of participants in ongoing user research” to ensure the platform was easy to use.

It also sought to balance “the need to maintain good data consistency across previous censuses”, which the agency will continue as the beta solution progresses further.

The DTA is expected to conduct a beta assessment in early 2021, following the results of the 2020 Census Test.

Around 75 percent of the population is expected to complete the Census online next year.

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