It was a dreary day in August, you were trying to finish work early to get home before the Census night deadline or risk paying a fine of $180 or more. You rushed home and sat down in front of the computer, ready to do the survey but only to find out you are unable to access the Census website. Repeatedly, you kept on refreshing your browser hoping for the contents to load but the error message kept on appearing instead like a broken record. There is something obviously wrong and later that night you found out from social media that the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) website has been experiencing outages causing you and the rest of Australia grief. You are less than impressed and immediately blamed ABS for wasting your valuable time. But are they the main culprit for this chaos?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics, per its namesake, is a government agency responsible in gathering data from the public to understand Australia’s inhabitants and its needs. Collected data are analysed and are referenced by the government and the community enabling better planning on social, economic, environmental and population matters. ABS enlisted the tech giant IBM for a staggering contract of $9.6 million to host and manage traffic for the 2016 online Census. Various tests were done prior to the Census being kicked off, however, come Census night the website crashed continually. It was a frustrating incident even for the Malcolm Turnbull, who expressed his disappointment and specifically called out both IBM and ABS. Of course, if you are the client (ABS) your natural instinct is to point the finger towards the direction of the person you are paying to do the job (the service provider, IBM).
So what went wrong? Initial reaction from ABS was inferring to DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack or in plain English, their systems were compromised. But further investigation suggests, their servers could not cope with the surge in traffic from users trying to access the website all at the same time. IBM was dragged through the mud, their integrity tainted and heavy criticisms came left, right and centre because of the Census’s poor design and architecture. In essence, IBM’s lack of due diligence caused them dearly and perhaps future multi-million dollar government deals in pipeline. Though it makes me wonder how a veteran technology company, who has withstood the test of time, messed up substantially and out of all clients, the most bureaucratic…the government!