​ABS seeks vendor to deliver 2021 Census in the cloud

After the confluence of failure that was the 2016 Census at the hands of IBM, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has again turned to the market to help it deliver the next one 'successfully'.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is expecting the default for its 2021 Census to be digital, seeking a vendor to help it develop, host, and support its next attempt at country-wide online data collection.

In a Request for Tender (RFT), the ABS specifies a cloud-based solution, noting that a "trusted, simple, easy to use contemporary experience will be required to ensure the continued growth in online completion".

Specially, the required cloud-based solution is expected to be a responsive web application designed for mobile and desktop use; comprise of an online form that is accessible, secure, and scalable and which may include up to four different form types; and have user services including a "Contact Us" option and the ability for the individual to easily request a paper version of the Census form.

It should also work on Census night when households log on.

On August 9, 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 on on-premises infrastructure procured from tech giant IBM.

The ABS previously said that IBM failed to adequately address the risk posed to the Census systems it was under contract to provide, and that IBM should have been able to handle the DDoS attack.

See also: IBM banks on strong history for success with AU$1b government contract

In the RFT, the ABS said the selected provider will need to work closely with other specialist government agencies, including the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), the Australian Office of the Information Commissioner (OAIC), and the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), to develop a strategy and roadmap to deliver the online capability.

The ABS has also encouraged suppliers to submit and/or develop open source software for the 2021 Census Digital Service.

"To ensure the successful delivery of the 2021 Census, the ABS seeks a supplier that can bring a high degree of expertise and proven capabilities to support the successful and efficient delivery of the digital online service, which will include the online form and associated supporting services," it wrote in the RFT.

Read also: Commonwealth pushes public cloud by default

It was announced on September 7, 2017, that Australia would be participating in a non-binding postal survey on whether people of the same sex should be extended the right to marry.

Everyone who enrolled to vote in Australia was sent a form via post, with those out of the country or unable to complete the physical form given the option to respond online.

Voting in Australia is usually conducted, or at least overseen, by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), but the mandate for the same-sex survey was given to the ABS.

With a four-week turnaround, the ABS turned to Amazon Web Services (AWS) to help it avoid the issues a private cloud caused for the 2016 Census -- ABS was justifiably concerned about the potential for another DDoS attack to strike, so it wanted a vendor involved that could scale and fend off a potential attack.

All of the AWS kit used for the survey was turned off shortly after, highlighting the ease of use for a cloud-based solution.

Submissions for the development, hosting, and support of the 2021 Census Digital Service close on October 29, 2018. The successful vendor will be contracted for an initial period of 3 years and 4 months -- February 2019 through June 2022.


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