Government Investment in the ABS

Government investment in the ABS


The Australian Government is investing $250 million over five years to transform the ABS infrastructure, systems and processes used to produce official statistics.

The investment will improve ABS capability and responsiveness, ensure continued delivery of trusted, world class statistics, and better support decision-making and innovation by providing more timely and integrated statistical services. The investment will also help maintain the integrity of the ABS's core services and make the best use of modern technologies to improve data access and ensure the ABS is well positioned to meet the information needs of today's dynamic economy and changing society.

The elements of the full package are outlined below.

Confidence in statistics
Transforming Australia's statistical infrastructure
Delivering new statistical infrastructure through industry partnerships
Harnessing administrative and big data sources
More efficient use of property
New revenue streams
ABS Media Release


Confidence in statistics
It is critical that the ABS can provide governments, business and the community with statistics and data in which they can have confidence. It is important to ensure continued delivery of trusted, world-class statistics, and provide information required to drive innovation and to meet the information needs of today's dynamic economy and changing society.

The ABS currently maintains more than 500 systems through our many business areas. Some of our most critical IT infrastructure components are over 30 years old. 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 Further, one in six applications are no longer supported by the vendor due to it being outdated technology.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.

The Government’s $250 million investment will transform the ABS' infrastructure, systems and processes to ensure that the ABS continues to provide statistics and data in which the community can have confidence.


Transforming Australia's statistical infrastructure

The ABS will transform Australia's statistical infrastructure progressively over five years. The investment will deliver a modern infrastructure model that integrates and simplifies processes to improve our capability and responsiveness and drive innovation. The benefits include:

  • more timely, high quality, secure data;
  • new facilities, such as enhanced online portals and mobile applications, to give users of ABS statistics easier access to statistical information including richer web-based analytics and better micro-data access;
  • user-friendly online forms for all surveys to significantly reduce red tape – the ABS will be able to ask fewer questions on its survey forms by designing forms that skip past questions that are not relevant to users (such as questions relating to childcare for people who have previously indicated they do not have children);
  • greater use of big data and government administrative data in statistical production to provide new insights and reduce red tape; and
  • 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.

The changes will benefit ABS operations, data providers and users of statistics. The ABS will closely engage with a range of stakeholders about the changes and consult with experts on the implementation of the project. The ABS will carefully manage any impacts on statistical outputs and keep data providers and users informed about any changes.

The new infrastructure will deliver millions of dollars in regulatory burden savings. For example, by 2021, new user friendly online forms will mean that each household completing the Census online in 2021 will take nearly 10 minutes less compared with completing the paper form. As there will be over 10 million households in Australia in 2021, and three-quarters of these households are expected to complete the form online, this adds up to significant savings. The regulatory burden of the 2021 Census will drop by about $13 million compared to 2016. When population growth is taken into account, the reduction in regulatory burden is almost $24 million.


Delivering new statistical infrastructure through industry partnerships

The Australian Government's investment will allow the ABS to transform its ageing infrastructure. The new infrastructure will make the best use of modern technologies to provide the statistical capabilities required for a 21st century national statistical office including:
  • secure multi-modal collection of data from Australian business and the public - including via the web and mobile technology – as well as using government administrative data, and big data sources;
  • better compilation methods, including improved automatic, machine learning and geospatial coding;
  • enhanced visualisation and estimation modules, including an improved capability to measure the accuracy of data, conduct time-series and seasonal adjustment, and confidentialise private and sensitive data;
  • the ability to create robust new statistics by modelling data, linking administrative and survey datasets, and extracting value from big data sources;
  • improved customer relationship management to support our providers and users, including client and workforce management systems; and
  • enhanced web content management capability to enable us to release dynamic statistical information to better meet user needs.

The ABS will work closely with the ICT industry to deliver this major transformation program. 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 ABS will initiate procurement processes in mid-2015 and provide industry briefings to help vendors understand the transformation program and the specific requirements.


Harnessing administrative and big data sources

The Australian Government's investment in the ABS's statistical infrastructure will provide the increased technological capability needed to harness administrative and big data sources more effectively and efficiently and replace the direct collection of information from individuals or businesses wherever possible.

The ABS will be further leveraging this investment to provide a whole of Government information capability that makes the best use of existing data while maintaining the privacy of individuals and community trust. The ABS will also be developing proposals for Government consideration for enhancing legislative and governance arrangements 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 work would connect up government efforts on data, and address critical data gaps, barriers to data sharing, data acquisition, data integration and data access, as well as increase productivity and reduce duplication of statistical functions in government agencies. In developing the proposals there will be extensive consultation with relevant stakeholders.

Together these initiatives will better position Australia’s entire statistical system to effectively harness the power of economic and social data and to provide the statistical information needed to drive innovation and to underpin evidence-based decisions in critical public policy and service delivery areas.


More efficient use of property

The ABS is a national organisation and will continue to have offices in all capital cities. In early 2016, the ABS will open its ninth office in Geelong, Victoria, housing a new Survey Management Centre of Excellence with about 250 staff. The new office in Geelong will be leased from Deakin University and will provide the catalyst for a strategic partnership between the ABS and the University. The University is a recognised leader in distance education and the ABS will explore how this expertise can be applied to building statistical capability in Australia and the region. Deakin University also has a strong big data analytics capability. Big data is a potentially rich statistical source for official statistics and Deakin’s expertise in this area will be helpful to the ABS in harnessing the benefits of big data in the production of official statistics.

Over the next few years, the ABS will lower property costs by reducing office footprints to below the 14 square metres per person recommended by the Australian Government Department of Finance, by introducing and supporting more flexible work environments.


New revenue streams

Since 2005 all ABS publications have been available for free on the ABS website. The ABS will continue to provide free access to all publications and official statistics via the ABS website, social media and mobile apps. However, to improve the ABS's long-term financial position, the ABS will pursue new sources of revenue and new ways to recover costs.

The ABS will commence charging for more complex telephone and email enquiry services. This measure is consistent with the Australian Government Cost Recovery Policy. Requests for key headline statistics, such as the Consumer Price Index and Labour Force statistics, will continue to be available free-of-charge.

The ABS will also consider commercial advertising opportunities on the ABS website after an upgrade of the site. This follows a similar move by the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), who showed that advertising can be sensitively integrated without compromising the user experience.