1005.0 - ABS Corporate Plan, 2021-22  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 30/08/2021   
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Operating context

The ABS works within a complex and dynamic environment. Within this environment, the ABS is responding to several factors including:

    • continuing adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including operational implications for the ABS and its staff
    • government responses to a changing climate and natural hazards
    • new technologies to improve the data system efficiency across the APS
    • flexible work practices to increase access to labour markets, reduce property expenses, and retain staff
    • increased collaboration within and across governments
    • changing expectations of clients, including the need for more timely statistics, reduced provider burden, and access to microdata for research and policy development
    • availability of alternative data sources, including large private sector datasets
    • growing need for data skills and expertise across the Australian Government, in a competitive labour market
    • community concern about data privacy
    • increasing cyber-security threats.

In 2021–22, the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to have a profound impact on Australia’s economy and society. The ABS continues to play a pivotal role in measuring the impacts of the pandemic on society and the economy with a range of more-timely statistical products to inform the Government’s response.

The ABS has a continuing obligation to deliver core statistical products that are critical to government, business, and the Australian community. The ABS looks for ways to reduce the burden placed on providers by only collecting data directly from households and business where this data is not available through other means. The ABS has used non-survey1 datasets to meet some of the increased demand for more detailed and timely statistics, and to deliver more detailed statistics more frequently.

Collecting data from households is becoming more difficult and expensive as the attitudes and lifestyle habits of individuals and families change over time. People are more mobile, and their contact details change more frequently. The ABS is making better use of technology to contact, identify, and engage survey participants remotely to respond to these changes.

The ABS continues to invest in international best-practice methods for the secure storage, processing, and dissemination of statistics.

The ABS is a leader in Australia’s data environment, with the Australian Statistician as the Head of the Data Profession for the APS. In leading the APS Data Profession, the ABS is working to lift the capability of the APS workforce to generate deeper insights to inform decision-making in policy development, management, and service delivery.

The ABS has a capable, resilient, agile, and engaged workforce. The ABS of the future requires experienced leadership, a diverse workforce with deep expertise in key areas, and an inclusive workplace culture.

The ABS has identified a series of shifts to respond to the opportunities and demands of its environment. These shifts will be most noticeable in how the ABS: sources and protects data; engages with its clients; shapes its workforce; modernises its technologies; and strengthens its leadership.

Identified 'shifts' in key areas of data, clients, workforce, technology and leadership
Image: Identified 'shifts' in key areas of data, clients, workforce, technology and leadership
Description of image: This image identifies the 5 priority capabilities where the ABS intends to make important changes (or shifts) to respond to the opportunities and demands of its environment. These capabilities are 1. data, 2. clients, 3. workforce, 4. technology, and 5. leadership.

In 2021–22 and beyond, the ABS will build capability by:
    • recruiting to address critical and in-demand skillsets including data scientists, data analysts, methodology specialists, cyber-security, and artificial intelligence
    • leveraging the APS-wide Data Profession
    • improving engagement with government, providers of big data2, and other key partners
    • further embedding high performance behaviours in ABS leaders
    • investing in support for managers in increasingly flexible working environments
    • further embedding a safety culture and practices that underpin physical and mental wellbeing
    • redeploying skilled staff to high priority areas, including the 2021 Census, through operational workforce planning and internal mobility programs.

The ABS is enhancing its capabilities to leverage big data sources. The ABS will expand its already world-class methods to store, manipulate, integrate, and analyse large datasets. The ABS continues to collaborate with international statistical organisations to ensure its methods for producing high-quality statistics are world best-practice.

The ABS will continue to invest in data science capabilities to underpin its leadership in data integration, analysis, and handling within the APS. It will increase the use of big and administrative3 data to reduce the need for surveys, and work with third parties to directly source data, in its ongoing attempts to reduce provider burden.

Through its Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Strategy, the ABS is modernising its ICT to support the production of high-quality statistics, provide a platform for innovation, and deliver future-focused technical capabilities. The ABS is incrementally improving its systems to maximise value and reduce the time to deliver new data solutions and services.

Risk oversight and management
The ABS approach to risk management emphasises ownership of risk by individual business units and risk management action proportionate to each unit’s risk profile.

Existing governance arrangements support good communication of risks among business units and enable collective responses to common and critical risks. These arrangements also support the effective escalation of higher-level risks while empowering line managers to deal with lower-level risks.

The ABS enterprise risk management framework continues to evolve to better capture risk and improve awareness about individual responsibility for risk management. Enterprise risk stewards operate in support of Deputy-level risk owners by scanning the risk environment, collaborating with senior managers across the organisation, and informing risk assessments with accurate and timely business intelligence.

The ABS is committed to producing and publishing timely insights as well as high-quality statistical information and will seek to limit risks to core statistical releases and services. The ABS does not accept risk to its people and will make every effort to comply with its legislative and legal obligations.

The ABS embraces risk to innovate to deliver relevant and timely statistics. Where strategies and objectives result in higher risk, the ABS relies on effective internal management and regular engagement with clients to ensure there is appropriate awareness and understanding of the risk.

The ABS cannot, and should not, seek to eliminate all risk as it delivers its purpose. Change involves risk, and the ABS is continually adapting to deliver relevant information to support important decisions.

Strategic uncertainties
A number of strategic uncertainties may affect the ability of the ABS to achieve its objectives, including:
    • increasing difficulty contacting people to collect data
    • rapidly increasing demand from clients for data services
    • increasing competition for skilled statisticians and data scientists as public and private sectors develop their capability and demand for these skills
    • changing public expectations for privacy, and its impacts on trust in government institutions
    • increasing threat of cyber-security attack
    • increasing numbers of providers of data and data capability.

The ABS cooperates with a wide range of Australian, state, and territory government agencies and businesses to provide statistical services and to gain access to critical non-survey datasets. By accessing these datasets, the ABS can reduce the survey burden on households and businesses, improve statistical quality, and generate new statistics and products more rapidly.

The ABS engages with partners to co-design surveys and develop the best products for their purposes – with minimum redundant effort. This results in better outcomes for both the ABS and its partners.

The ABS also receives funding from other government agencies to undertake surveys and integrate and disseminate data on their behalf. The ABS is currently working in partnership with state, territory, and other Australian government agencies in areas such as health, climate, the economy, and education. In partnering with other agencies, the ABS aims to:
    • securely deliver more appropriate, useful, and timely data and statistical insights
    • build capability – in both people and systems – with a whole-of-APS perspective
    • provide better services, including access to critical data, by engaging with users
    • lead advancements in the broader data system
    • reduce the burden on data providers by making better use of existing data assets.

The ABS actively partners with a broad range of Australian Government entities, including (but not limited to):
    • Central agencies: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; Department of the Treasury
    • Australian government departments: Home Affairs; Health; Agriculture, Water and Environment; Defence; Industry, Science, Energy and Resources; Education, Skills and Employment; Social Services
    • Portfolio agencies and Commonwealth companies: National Skills Commission; Services Australia; Australian Electoral Commission; Australia Post; Bureau of Meteorology; Geoscience Australia; CSIRO; Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; Public Sector Mapping Authority; Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.

The ABS partners with state and territory government entities to deliver regional insights on jurisdictional priorities. Data provided by state and territory registries of Births, Deaths, and Marriages is critical to the production of population estimates.

The ABS also relies on Indigenous organisations; community groups; private sector organisations; industry groups; and commercial organisations including supermarkets and banks to build community support and access data. The ABS engages with academia and other national statistical organisations abroad.

The ABS manages and oversees these collaborations through memoranda of understanding, deeds of agreement, statements of intent, and commercial contracts.

1 Non-survey datasets are comprised of data that is sourced from methods other than a survey or census, such as big data or administrative data.

2 Big data refers to ‘data that contains greater variety, arriving in increasing volumes and with more velocity. This is also known as the three Vs.’ https://www.oracle.com/au/big-data/what-is-big-data/

3 Administrative data is information collected by government agencies, businesses, or organisations for various purposes, including registrations, transactions, and record keeping, usually during the delivery of a service.