Chapter 17 - Effectiveness of activities
The ABS has put in place a number of processes, systems and controls to ensure that it its statistical and non-statistical activities are as efficient and effective as possible. These include the strategic audit and review program, operational reviews and statistical reviews, as well as special initiatives.
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 performance.
In particular, the ABS often benefits from comparisons with the activities of statistical organisations in other countries. There were no overall bilateral meetings in 2005–06, but there were many productive meetings on particular aspects of statistics. More information is available in chapter 16.
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 stationary and internal audit. During 2005–06, external providers were used extensively in the preparations for the 2006 Census of Population and Housing.
AUDIT AND REVIEW PROGRAM
The ABS conducts a strategic audit and review program, with a focus on targeting areas that present risks for the ABS (see chapter 18 for further information). Many of these audits and reviews involve benchmarking, and make recommendations to improve the efficiency of ABS operations. Use of an external audit provider for internal audit ensures that their experience with other agencies is incorporated into their audits of ABS functions.
The ABS has also utilised its internal audit program to review the effectiveness of corporate services activities. The ABS is currently implementing a range of recommendations arising from audits conducted during 2005–06, to further enhance the effectiveness of its corporate services functions in areas such as payroll processing and administration, employee performance management, and human resources information technology systems.
In 2005–06, an audit was conducted on credit card usage, to ensure that credit cards are being used to the ABS' full advantage. The audit found that there are efficiencies to be gained in increasing credit card usage where possible, instead of using more traditional payment methods such as Accounts Payable. The audit also made recommendations relating to controls in place over credit card transactions.
In 2005–06, the ABS reviewed a number of aspects of its human resources functions, primarily focussing on the internal structures and distribution of work, both between central office and regional offices, and overall. As a result, changes in the branch structure of the Corporate Services Division have been planned and will be introduced during 2006–07.
A review of the ABS' approach to budgeting and forecasting was conducted, using an external consultant. The review found that, although the ABS approach to budgeting and forecasting is fundamentally sound, there are a number of areas that could be improved and streamlined. Implementation of the review's recommendations will strengthen the preparation of 'bottom up' budgets, to better inform senior management decisions and support the 'top down' approach the ABS takes to identifying work program priorities. The recommended changes are contributing to the ABS developing more robust, consistent and integrated financial systems and procedures.
The ABS introduced improvements to the ABS website in 2005–06, and then commissioned a consultant to assess the new ABS website (further information can be found in chapter 12 on quality and timeliness of statistics). The assessment found that the new ABS web site was significantly better than the old site. This will not only benefit users accessing ABS data and information, but should also reduce the cost to the ABS of supporting users through the National Information and Referral Service telephone enquiry service, and through other areas in the ABS.
STATISTICAL REVIEWS AND SPECIAL INITIATIVES
WORKING MORE EFFECTIVELY WITH PARTNERS
The 2006 Census of Population and Housing offered the ABS an opportunity to be more effective by working in partnership with an organisation with special expertise in the area of online collection of data. Respondents have the ability to submit their 2006 Census form on-line, using the eCensus facility jointly developed by the ABS and IBM. The system has been under development since December 2004 with the final stages completed during 2005–06. Key features of this venture included the ability to accept the expected high numbers of Census returns on Census night, while maintaining the confidentiality and privacy of the information being provided.
This project has also involved a range of other organisations, including:
- Vision Australia evaluating the accessibility of the system
- Defence Signals Directorate evaluating security, and
- Mercury Interactive testing load handling capabilities.
The ABS regularly reviews aspects of its statistical work program to ensure that the activities conducted are appropriately targeted and meet user needs effectively and efficiently. These reviews can result in recommendations for changes to work program, or improvements to processes. Examples of reviews in 2005/06 include a review of format, content and distribution of Australian Economic Indicators (cat. no. 1350.0), a review of user requirements for the Service Industry survey program, and an internal efficiency review of the labour price index.
In 2005–06, the ABS embarked on a number of major initiatives relating to processes for collecting and processing data. These do not focus on particular collections, but on the overall infrastructure and procedures used in the ABS. A key focus of the three initiatives described below is to improve the efficiency of ABS operations. While none of these are complete yet, they are expected to provide considerable benefits for the ABS in future years.
End to end Program for Business statistics
The End to End Program for Business Statistics was established in late 2005 to continue to guide the continuing evolution of the way ABS produces business statistics. The outcomes sought include: more efficient and effective business processes; methodologies and technologies; increased standardisation of processes; well integrated end to end processes; and improved management of risk areas.
The End to End Program is the latest stage in the major change program for ABS business statistics that commenced in 2002. Initial steps were taken with the Business Statistics Innovation Program (BSIP) using innovative technologies and methodologies to re-engineer the ABS' business statistics processes, to improve the quality and relevance of business statistics in a manner that was most efficient for both the ABS and its providers. BSIP was formally closed in mid-2005, with many changes successfully introduced but the remaining opportunities for improving effectiveness will now be implemented as part of the End to End Program for Business Statistics.
Integrated system for Household surveys
The objective of the Integrated Systems for Household Surveys project is to achieve operational excellence in household survey systems and processes. The project covers the review and development, from an end to end perspective, of the data and metadata systems infrastructure required for the ABS household surveys program. Some changes have already been introduced (for example, staff numbers on business statistics were reduced from 1029 to 856), while others are scheduled for later phases.
Operations research initiative
Operations Research is the discipline of using qualitative and quantitative analytical techniques to make better business decisions. Qualitative techniques help identify the underlying issues in complex, real world problems, while the quantitative techniques are used where the basic problem has been identified, and approaches like mathematical optimisation, sensitivity analysis and simulation can guide the best deployment of resources.
In May 2006, an Operations Research Unit was set up in ABS to look at how to use operations research techniques to deliver cost savings and/or improvements in efficiency and effectiveness of ABS survey processes.
The work program has two initial projects, focussing on the cost effectiveness of collection of data:
- for the population statistics program, this will include looking at the patterns used by interviewers in travelling to conduct face-to-face interviews, and in calling back respondents for phone interviews.
- for the economic statistics program, looking at patterns used in calling back respondents for telephone follow-up, and the trade off between extent and cost of follow up and increase in response rates.