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During 2007–08, the ABS has continued to look for ways to operate more efficiently and effectively, in both statistical and non-statistical areas of the business. A number of processes, systems and controls have been implemented to assist the ABS meet its goals of greater efficiency and effectiveness. These include the strategic audit and review program, operational and statistical reviews, as well as special initiatives such as the operations research initiative (see below for more information).
Many of the reviews and audits conducted seek to ensure the ABS achieves cost-effective outputs, either as a primary or secondary objective. The ABS also uses external providers for a range of functions, including information technology training, leadership and management training, staff counselling services, legal advice, building maintenance, the supply of stationery, and internal audit. This enables the ABS to minimise its costs, whilst maximising its service.
On 2 July 2007, a new organisational structure for the ABS came into effect. This new structure realigned the organisational and infrastructure support groups at a high level to enable the ABS to more effectively meet future challenges and priorities. A new statistical group was created, which includes environment, labour, demography and census functions, as well as an additional subject matter division with a strong emphasis on regionally related statistics, and spatial data initiatives. The key objectives of the new organisational structure included:
For more information on the ABS’ new organisational structure, see Chapter 2, Overview of the ABS.
Following the restructure, the opportunity was taken to review the accommodation arrangements within ABS House in Canberra, so that work program areas are positioned together and the analytical branches from within economic, social and labour statistical groups are co-located.
Accommodation arrangements within ABS House were reviewed during 2007–08, to ensure the layout would meet current and ongoing needs of staff and the ABS.
CREATION OF THE DATA COLLECTION METHODOLOGY SECTION
As part of the organisational restructure of the ABS in July 2007, the Data Collection Methodology (DCM) section was formed. The section’s role is to support the design and evaluation of questionnaires, letters and data collection procedures. DCM combined two units from separate divisions, bringing together the experts on business surveys and household surveys.
In addition to supporting statistical collections, DCM provides a single centre of expertise for assisting with the ABS’ staff surveys and user feedback forms, leading to better informed decision making in human resource and dissemination planning. The synergy created by the single larger group allows for more effective and efficient survey support, balanced with research and training, as well as streamlined recruitment and enhanced skill development and career paths for the section’s staff.
Recently, DCM has provided methodological leadership to the Multi-Modal Data Collection and Standard Business Reporting projects, with the aim of improving response rates and data quality, and ultimately making data collection more cost effective. DCM has released new chapters in the ABS’ Forms Design Standards Manual, including chapters on using emails for surveys and Interactive Voice Response (a computerised telephony system with the ability to interact on a basic level with telephone users). Other projects underway include work on web-based forms and faxes, a Mode Suitability Framework and strategies for measuring modal bias.
By providing guidelines and support for a range of evaluation methods, DCM has also advocated more targeted, cost-effective survey testing. Finally, DCM has assisted with the implementation of cost savings for particular ABS surveys, including support of the new Agricultural Resource Management Survey, and respondent communication strategies for surveys, which have reduced the frequency of contact with respondents.
INTENSIVE FOLLOW-UP OF PROVIDERS
The ABS’ Operations Research Unit examined the efficacy of the intensive follow-up of providers who have not returned their completed survey forms to the ABS, and identified a number of areas where efficiency gains can be made and provider load reduced, while maintaining data quality. This work has led to the establishment of the ‘gold star’ provider strategy, whereby businesses having a good track record of providing information to the ABS are not followed up through the ABS’ Provider Contact Unit (PCU) until later in the follow-up process. The research indicated that most of these providers return their forms without the need for a reminder call. The strategy has been implemented in a number of quarterly survey trials, and will be rolled out to other sub-annual collections, where appropriate.
Research relating to the maximum number of productive calls that can be made to a provider was conducted over 2007–08 and will most likely result in changes to procedures in the PCU. Changes to ‘optimal timing of calls’ have also been trialled within the constraints of current resource allocation and intensive follow-up strategy. The trials have resulted in an improved receival rate and analysis is continuing to determine whether efficiency gains can also be achieved.
The ABS has endorsed a workforce plan to guide organisational outcomes over the next four years. The plan covers a range of demand and supply investigations and activities, including analysis of the composition of the present workforce, job design, consideration of skills needed to deliver future services, talent recognition and management. The plan also recognises that the ABS will need to adapt to new ways of working, including making maximum use of the geographic locations of its offices and staff. The plan forms part of the ABS’ effort to better align its business, financial and human capital management and planning.
HUMAN RESOURCE INDICATORS
To assist in human resource planning and management, at both the corporate and operational levels, human resource indicators are being renewed. Initially, these will reflect Australian Public Service-wide indicators, to enable comparison with other government agencies. The indicators are expected to be further developed, so they can be integrated into the ABS’ wider governance and performance monitoring processes.
BUSINESS CONTINUITY MANAGEMENT
The considerable investment in developing business continuity capability in the ABS over the past two years was tested during 2007–08 with three major incidents. These incidents caused activation of the crisis management team and the business continuity plan. The plan and procedures were thoroughly reviewed and further improved after each incident. The objective is always to resume normal business as soon as possible after ensuring safety of the staff and assets of ABS.
OTHER EFFICIENCY AND EFFECTIVENESS STRATEGIES
A combined survey design was developed for the 2007–08 National Health Survey and the Survey of Income and Housing. This approach allowed for geographically based field workloads with an optimal combination of questions from the two surveys, rather than enumerating the surveys independently. This resulted in improved quality and significant cost savings on travel, as less trips were required to collect information from those providers selected in the sample.
The 2006–07 Annual Integrated Collection, which was enumerated in 2007–08, combines the Economic Activity Survey, Annual Manufacturing Survey, Mining and Utilities Survey and the Service Industry Survey, into a single integrated framework. The combined collection allows for improved operational efficiencies and improved data quality and coherence, through the use of common methodologies, systems and procedures. The Annual Integrated Collection also makes extensive use of taxation data to reduce the burden on small businesses.
COMPOSITE ESTIMATION FOR THE LABOUR FORCE SURVEY
In June 2007, the ABS introduced a new methodology, known as composite estimation, in the Labour Force Survey. During 2007–08, composite estimation enabled 11% reduction in the Labour Force Survey sample size, while effectively maintaining the same level of data quality. This resulted in cost savings for the ABS and a reduction in the reporting load placed on the community.
BEST PRACTICE GUIDELINES FOR SEASONAL ADJUSTMENT
Every year, the ABS produces hundreds of seasonally adjusted and trend series. Seasonal adjustment utilises a range of methods to derive the seasonally adjusted data from the original, and there is much flexibility in the application of these methods. This raises the need to establish best practice methodologies and to ensure that these methodologies are being implemented as standard practice for all ABS series. The Best Practice Guidelines is a document compiled and promulgated by the ABS to meet this need.
During 2007–08, significant progress has been made on the Best Practice Guidelines, with the development and finalisation of best practice procedures for several key issues relating to ABS series. The existence and use of the guidelines will enable greater consistency and quality in the production of ABS seasonally adjusted time series.