How the Census demonstrated it takes an entire organisation to be digitally-aligned


Many critics of Australia’s first digital-by-default Census have pointed fingers at the digital solution not being robust, however what it really demonstrated was how it takes an entire organisation to become digitally-enabled and aligned to transition successfully.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics brought back the eCensus again for 2016, (having originally launched it as opt-in from 2006), bringing the counting process that began in Australia in 1788 well and truly to the digital era. But in doing so, it had to allay concerns surrounding privacy, security and digital capability.

The 2016 Census woes were never entirely an IT issue

Yes, the IT infrastructure load-balancing, cyber-security and continuity strategy could have been better planned.  The ABS had forecast capacity for 1 million concurrent users which based on a back-of-the-envelope forecast does not appear sufficient to cope with the load.  If you are expecting roughly 30% of the 10 million households will still complete the paper form, this suggests 7 million households will log-on to the web site on a single day, many completing it during a peak-period (in the evening after work / dinner), condensing the majority your 7 million target users to complete the survey during a 3-4 hour window, suggesting the capacity may require 1.8 million to 2.3 million concurrent users.  Expecting the traffic-load to be distributed evenly over a day is unrealistic, particularly in 2016 when everything is ‘on-demand’, from Uber-like transportation, to reality-TV shows promoting second-screen audience interaction.

Indeed, Canada had the same problem only a few of months ago, with the web site grinding to a halt at 7.00pm as too many concurrent users began completing the form in the evening.

A classic example of marketing not moving with the times

When seeking a population to complete a paper form, it may seem logical to run an above the line campaign encouraging everyone to complete the census on a particular night.  Indeed, what the Australian Government has been doing since 1966 – the first time television was mainstream during a census period.

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