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The ABS endeavours to find ways to improve its efficiency and effectiveness. A number of processes, systems and controls have been implemented, for both statistical and non-statistical activities, to assist the ABS to meet these goals. These include the strategic audit and review program, operational and statistical reviews, as well as special initiatives such as the operations research initiative.
Many of the reviews and audits conducted seek to ensure that the ABS achieves cost-effective outputs, either as a primary or secondary objective. A key approach in achieving this is benchmarking ABS activities against similar activities elsewhere in the ABS, in other agencies in Australia, or overseas agencies. This provides the opportunity for the ABS to understand and learn from best practice, and to improve its performance.
The ABS continues to use external providers for a wide 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.
During 2006–07, a key effectiveness strategy for the ABS has been consolidation of the business continuity strategy, with a focus on ensuring the ABS is able to continue its work in an emergency or crisis situation. Significant development and testing of the ABS business continuity management framework was carried out in 2006–07. As of 30 June 2007, the Business Continuity Plan (BCP) included sixty-two sub-plans covering every facet of key business activities, and emergency and crisis support functions.
The BCP was activated in February 2007 during the Canberra storms, which damaged the ABS’ ACT office, with the result that the ACT office recommenced operations within 24 hours.
A review of the BCP in May 2007 found that ABS progress in the business continuity management arena had been significant, and was in accordance with best practice set out in the Australian National Audit Office Better Practice Guide for Business Continuity Management.
The ACT office was affected by storm damage in February 2007
END-TO-END PROGRAM FOR BUSINESS STATISTICS
The End-to-End Program for Business Statistics is the final stage in the major change program for ABS business statistics, which commenced in 2002. This change program has been instrumental in improving the relevance and quality of business statistics in the most effective way for the ABS and its providers. By mid-2007, approximately half of the business-related statistical and administrative data collections conformed to a set of standard processes, methodologies and technologies.
An internal review was commissioned by the ABS to investigate any significant sources of measurement errors in the National Accounts estimates of gross domestic product (GDP). The review was completed in November 2006 and concluded that there were no significant or systematic sources of measurement error. However, the review made fourteen recommendations in relation to aspects of the National Accounts, all of which were accepted by the ABS. Actions are in progress to follow up on the recommendations.
In 2006–07, an internal audit of project management was undertaken, to assess the overall effectiveness of project management in the ABS, and to determine if there were any systemic issues. The audit focused on generic high level governance of project management and key controls. It concluded that there are suitable project governance practices and processes in place to allow for the effective management of projects, both IT-related and non-IT related. The audit identified the following areas of project management that would benefit from improvement: project measurement, monitoring and reporting; program management; ongoing maintenance and support for project management tools; training and awareness; and project risk, issue and quality management.
In 2006–07, the ABS looked for efficiency gains by conducting a joint tender process with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to secure a new panel of training providers. The panel is now in place and has enabled the ABS to secure the services of a range of companies to deliver on its diverse requirements, including leadership, management and supervision, project management, writing skills, and to facilitate forward work planning days.
The ABS engaged consultants to provide advice on various aspects of the ABS’ approach to choosing and managing its property portfolio. In particular, assistance was sought to identify areas of potential savings and how to achieve greater cost effectiveness, especially in relation to the design and fit out of ABS tenancies. The review covered a full range of property matters including environmental opportunities, accommodation standards, flexible leasing terms, geographic location of work and the effect of the physical working environment on productivity. The report made a number of recommendations and the ABS is now working to implement these.
One key area of work is the development and implementation of a national Environmental Management System as, while the ABS meets current energy targets, significant work is needed to meet the revised mandatory government targets announced in 2006, to be implemented by the 2011–12 financial year.
Another area of focus is incorporation of the design findings into future ABS fit outs in order to achieve more flexible and intelligent use of space, which aligns to ABS needs.
In response to the Management Advisory Committee report on Reducing Red Tape in the Australian Public Service, which was released in early 2007, the ABS has reviewed its procurement policies and identified opportunities to streamline procurement processes. The new approach to procurement will further improve operational efficiency by reducing administrative effort for both the ABS and suppliers, in many of its procurement activities.