Data and digital skills are in high demand
The ABS needs staff skilled in data design, integration, analysis and handling. These skills are in high demand across the public and private sectors. As other Commonwealth agencies build their own capability, they are also turning to the ABS for experienced data specialists. Competition for graduates is also contributing to the recruitment and retention challenges in this specialist labour market.
Private sector businesses are also increasingly recognising the value of the data they hold and looking for employees with the ability to commercialise it. The higher entry salaries offered by these employers is attractive to new graduates. The ABS and the Australian Public Service (APS) are having to work harder to highlight the advantages offered by the public service in skills mentoring and development, subject matter diversity, the community value of its work and the breadth of innovation in new areas such as machine learning.
New businesses offering data services are also entering the marketplace, adding to the demand for trained data specialists.
This larger marketplace and talent pool may create a potential future source of skilled staff for the ABS and APS.
More data is becoming available
The ABS is looking to use large commercial data sets to validate survey data and improve the timeliness of statistics.
New collaborations between government agencies are also leading to better use of large government datasets. These collaborations are improving the management of data in government organisations, providing richer data for the ABS to develop new insights and replacing ABS collection activity with data already available. The ABS is also supporting early efforts to develop ‘data lakes’, accessible to certified agencies, to improve the efficiency of data sharing and use in government. With an expansion of collaboration across government agencies, the ABS is becoming a key service provider.
The passing of the Data Availability and Transparency Act 2022 on 31 March 2022 will help to create opportunities to share data sensibly and securely across accredited organisations.
Clients want more complex data
Government organisations are also seeking more detailed statistical information to inform more complex analysis and assessments. Demand is increasing for location-enriched data. This allows for more precise identification of support needs and targeting of government services.
Data providers want information collected and used efficiently
The cooperation of the Australian community and businesses to provide data to the ABS ensures we can deliver quality statistics and generate new insights to inform policy and guide decision making. However, increasingly the Australian community and businesses expect governments to collect data once, share it appropriately and use it many times.
Businesses want the ABS to simplify the collection process or limit the data it needs. Businesses expect the ABS to use existing or alternative data where it is available and reduce the length of surveys where the information is not crucial to informing key decisions.
While the ABS continues to use household surveys to inform topics of national importance, the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected our capacity to collect data directly from people. People are less willing to participate in surveys on topics like domestic violence than they were before the pandemic. The tight labour market makes it harder to attract and retain interviewers to undertake surveys rendering surveys more expensive to conduct. While there are no short-term solutions, plans are in place to improve our ability to conduct household surveys in the future including:
- taking advantage of the spread of technology in homes to increase flexible contact arrangements like video interviewing
- using pre-filled forms where possible, so people need only confirm details rather than enter them manually from difficult to access records
- maximising the use of existing data in line with privacy and information security obligations.
The ABS cooperates with Commonwealth, state and territory government organisations and is increasing its engagement with the private sector.
The ABS cooperates with many organisations to make better use of existing datasets to limit survey activity. The ABS is also working with accountants, bookkeepers and accounting software providers to streamline the way small and medium businesses report their financial data.
The ABS receives funding from other government agencies to undertake surveys and integrate data on their behalf. The ABS is currently working in partnership with other Australian government agencies in areas such as health and welfare, climate, the economy, demography and education.
The ABS engages with businesses such as supermarkets to use their datasets to create new statistics and generate new insights. The ABS also cooperates with other national statistical organisations and international organisations to maintain internationally recognised statistical standards.
The ABS is committed to early and ongoing conversations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to ensure all surveys are done in a culturally appropriate way and reflect the priorities, values and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Strategies for delivering capability
The ABS has a capable, resilient, agile and engaged workforce.
The ABS has strategies to respond to the opportunities and demands of its environment. These strategies will shift how the ABS collects and protects data, engages with its clients, shapes its workforce, modernises its technologies and strengthens its leadership.
The ABS aims to shift the balance toward a future end state of:
- providing easier access to, and integration of, the data it holds
- routinely using alternative data sources to enhance official statistics
- actively co-designing solutions with clients for mutual benefit
- being an employer of choice that values and develops staff
- being the provider of choice for data solutions, big data access and support for data issues
- enhancing data capabilities across government through shared technologies and skills
- fostering a culture of high performance and innovation.
Risk oversight and management
The ABS risk framework is fully aligned with the Commonwealth Risk Management Framework and is updated biennially to ensure better practice is applied within the organisation. A set of documented strategic priorities is used to ensure risk management is relevant and aligned across the organisation. The ABS builds clear lines of sight from branch-level operations through to enterprise-level goals and strategy.
Managers at all levels are accountable for managing risks to their objectives by establishing monitoring and control activities proportionate to the level of risk.
ABS governance bodies enable collective and coordinated responses to risk by enabling investment in controls for common or systemic risks, supporting effective escalation of higher-level risks and oversighting the efforts of line managers addressing lower-level risks.
The ABS risk culture is built on smart risk taking - finding opportunities in uncertainty and applying informed risk management practices to undertake innovative projects. The ABS applies caution when core business deliverables are involved but accepts sensible risk-taking leads to improvement.
Strategic and operational uncertainties
The ABS faces numerous strategic and operational uncertainties including:
- increasing difficulty collecting data from households and businesses
- increasing competition for skilled statisticians and data scientists
- persistent threat of sophisticated cyber-security attack
- increasing numbers of, and competition from, providers of data and data capability
- reliance on bespoke systems and processes unable to support emerging statistical methods.