Census preparations on track with help of PwC's tech consultants

15 April 2021 Consultancy.com.au 3 min. read

As 2021 Census night fast approaches, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and professional services firm PwC as official IT provider have been working diligently to ensure the disasters of the 2016 edition aren’t repeated.

The Australian public has been reassured that preparations for the 2021 national census are on track following the multiple failures of five years ago, with PwC having completely rebuilt the infrastructure and security systems on the Amazon Web Services cloud ahead of the August 10 survey. The professional services firm was selected as IT provider at the beginning of May in 2019, replacing IBM after it had shouldered most of the blame for the 2016 cock-up. 

“PwC brings to the 2021 Census a wealth of experience in managing and protecting sensitive personal information across the government, banking, superannuation and health sectors. Keeping people’s information secure and confidential is the highest priority for the ABS,” then acting Deputy Statistician Chris Liberi said at the time. “It was a key factor in the digital services selection process and a critical consideration in the design of Census activities.”

Australia's next census takes place in August 2021

In response to the series of DDoS attacks and hardware routing failure which led to an embarrassing website shutdown and delays on Census night in 2016, PwC has been tasked with building and operating the 2021 online form as well as mobile and desktop Census website and online assistance to aid the public with completing their forms. The solution has been built on AWS’ Protected cloud services, certified by the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC).

Now, four months out, current ABS Deputy Statistician Teresa Dickinson and leader of the Census & Data Services Group said in a Senate Estimates hearing; “In our metrics, where we measure progress against the Census, many of the sub programs of work are ‘green’, there are a few that remain ‘amber’, and the reason is that we still have some testing and defect remediation to do on our technical work. But we are on track to do that, by the time the form goes live.”

Dickinson added that numerous recommendations had been made following a number of reviews into the 2016 debacle, with all of those recommendations having been actioned – including “a great deal around cybersecuity.”

The government has also coughed up an extra $38 million to mostly address security, while the ABS and PwC have been working with other digital agencies to develop the secure solution capable of handling the expected high demand for online participation.

The ABS anticipates a 75 percent online uptake this year, compared to 63 percent of the population last time around. “We’ve done everything humanly possible to safeguard the census,” Australian Statistician David Gruen told The Australian Financial Review. “I never say never, but everyone who is working on it is aware of what happened last time, as of course are our major suppliers. So we have left no stone unturned to design it in a way that is as secure as we can make it.”