Budget 2015: $250m for IT upgrades at ABS

$250 million to deal with decades-old systems and unsupported applications

The federal government has announced it will earmark $250 million over five years to upgrade aging IT systems at the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The funding will be included in next week's budget.

"The ABS currently maintains more than 500 systems through our many business areas, and this investment will allow us to move to an efficient enterprise-wide approach," Australian Statistician David Kalisch said in a statement.

"Some of our most critical IT infrastructure components are over 30 years old," an ABS outline of the rationale for the spending package states.

"One in three ICT applications have been classed as unreliable, with issues occurring daily or weekly, putting critical statistical data at risk. Further, one in six applications are no longer supported by the vendor due to it being outdated technology.

"A 2014 ABS assessment found that the current ICT infrastructure is highly vulnerable to failure and error, and the ability of ICT staff to maintain the existing systems is becoming increasingly compromised."

"Whilst our ICT staff have been working hard to maintain the existing systems, they have become increasingly vulnerable to failure and error," Kalisch said.

The funding will allow the creation of new mobile applications and online portals to access ABS statistics and make possible the "introduction of a trusted whole of Government data integration capability for policy research, analysis and program evaluation to drive productivity in the public and private sectors," states the ABS's outline of the funding package.

The ABS is also eyeing new methods for collecting statistics, such as the use of mobile devices.

"The ABS will work closely with the ICT industry to deliver this major transformation program," the ABS document states.

"While some of the requirements can be met through existing off-the-shelf ICT products and services, the ABS will need to partner with ICT professionals to deliver new capabilities in niche areas."

The agency will begin procurement processes for the program in the middle of the year.

The government package includes a funding for establishing a previously announced 'ABS Survey Management Centre of Excellence' in Geelong.

2016 Census

The funding announcement comes ahead of next year's census, for which the ABS will adopt an online-first approach.

In February the future of next year's census looked uncertain.

Today the ABS confirmed the 2016 Census would go ahead.

"The ABS has a long and proud history of census taking in Australia, and with the continued support of all Australians, we will deliver a quality and predominantly digital census in 2016," Kalisch said today.

"The move to an online first approach will provide a faster, more efficient census that is easier for people to complete.

"The ABS will continue to look for opportunities to integrate census data with other data sets to increase the range of insights provided and ensure the census delivers maximum benefit to governments and the community."

ICT statistics

The ABS, in collaboration with the Department of Communication's Bureau of Communications Research, is currently assessing the types and methods of collecting statistics relating to ICT use in Australia.

The government agency earlier this week released a discussion paper that summarised submissions to a public consultation on ICT statistics.

The ABS has invited comments on whether there are ICT statistics outside those noted in the paper that should be collected by the agency and which types of IT-related statistics should be made a priority.

The initial paper released as part of the review said the ABS was also interested in using 'big data' and data generated as an 'administrative by-product' as potential tools for understanding Australia's digital economy.

"We will ... keep evaluating our broader statistical program in order to produce the information that Australia needs into the future," Kalisch's statement today said.

"We will progress innovations to transform our social and economic statistics over coming years to take advantage of 21st century opportunities such as advances in technology, big data and use of administrative data for statistical and research purposes."

The federal government earlier this year committed itself to spending $1 billion on upgrading Centrelink's payment platform.

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