ABS in search of scanning software ahead of 2021 Census

The software will be used to scan, capture, and recognise the data from paper-based responses of the 2021 Census.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has issued a request for tender seeking data capture, recognition, and repair software, as well as scanning infrastructure that would be used for the 2021 Census.

According to the ABS, the software and infrastructure solution would be used to scan, capture, recognise, and enhance written responses from paper-based forms of the 2021 Census and the ABS household and business collections. It would then covert the responses into an electric format so the data can be used by "appropriate systems".

 "The ABS is seeking data capture, recognition, and repair software that delivers a range of functionality to support the imaging and data requirements, capturing responses from paper forms using ICR (intelligent character recognition) and/or OCR (optical character recognition) and/or OMR (optical mark recognition) technology, and recognition engines to automatically interpret and digitise data," ABS wrote in the tender document.

As part of the solution, ABS is after software licences, implementation, training, maintenance, and ongoing support of the software.

It added that while the software would "ideally" be compatible with the current ABS-owned Kodak i5850 scanners, the organisation said it is open to "alternate scanner recommendations that will provide optimal interaction with the software to be put forward".

While the deadline to submit for tender closes on December 9, the ABS said it intends to procure the software "as soon as practicably possible" with the intention to have the solution evaluated, developed, tested, and in production for the Census "readiness exercise" by August 2020.

The ABS is seeking to contract a provider for an initial period from early 2020 to June 2022, with the option to extend the contract for a further period of up to two years.

It was revealed in May that PwC Australia had been selected as the IT partner for the 2021 Census.

The ABS said PwC would operate the digital census on Amazon Web Services, which was certified to handle Protected workloads earlier this year.

"The ABS and PwC Australia will work with critical agencies including the Australian Cyber Security Centre and the Digital Transformation Agency to build a secure solution that manages the high demand anticipated for 2021 Census," the ABS said.

In April, the ABS was allocated AU$38.3 million over three years in the 2019-20 Federal Budget.

On Census night, 9 August 2016, the ABS experienced a series of denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, suffered a hardware router failure, and baulked at a false positive report of data being exfiltrated, which resulted in the Census website being shut down and citizens unable to complete their online submissions.

The Census was run with on-premises infrastructure procured from tech giant IBM.

A month later, the ABS blasted IBM and said it failed to adequately address the risk it was under contract to provide.

"The online Census system was hosted by IBM under contract to the ABS, and the DDoS attack should not have been able to disrupt the system," the ABS said at the time.

"Despite extensive planning and preparation by the ABS for the 2016 Census, this risk was not adequately addressed by IBM and the ABS will be more comprehensive in its management of risk in the future." 

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