Census website collapses despite millions spent on IT contracts

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Census website collapses despite millions spent on IT contracts

Despite ploughing millions of dollars into an outsourcing contract with IBM as well as services and software licences for load testing, Australia's first online Census failed catastrophically on Tuesday 9 August.

Social media lit up as thousands of citizens struggled to access the website run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as weeks of paranoia over privacy risks – dubbed #CensusFail on Twitter – gave way to frustration over the outage.

It was particularly embarrassing for the ABS given that Census boss Chris Libreri told News.com.au on the morning of 9 August that: “We have load tested it at 150 percent of the number of people we think are going to be on it on Tuesday for eight hours straight and it didn’t look like flinching.

"We wouldn’t do it unless we were able to safely do it, we have evolved it and we are confident."

The ABS awarded a $9.6 million contract to IBM in 2014 to host the eCensus. At the time, the Bureau of Statistics confirmed it had decided to partner with IBM to ensure the expected high volumes would be properly managed.

Melbourne-based Revolution IT has been awarded more than $1 million in contracts from the ABS since December 2015, many of them described as load testing for the Census.

Contracts include $325,000 for "licences for Census load testing" (link), $34,650 for "load testing script development services for Census" (link), $51,975 for "2016 Census Script Development" (link), $82,225 on a contract "software licences to support load testing services for Census IT products from HP" (link) and almost $150,000 across two contracts in May and June 2016 for "load testing services for Census 2016".

Revolution IT is a software testing specialist, with HPE gold partner levels in IT operations and applications. It has been contacted for comment.

The company's website includes a testimonial from "John Citizen" at the ABS, saying: "Revolution IT worked in a highly collaborative and well organised manner, and their subject knowledge, expertise and advice were key to achieve our project goals and objectives. We were impressed with how well they engaged with our e-Census solution provider [another private company]."

The ABS also spent more than $280,000 on licences for Hewlett Packard Performance Centre – the application testing software provides software testing tools and consistent processes "to help you create a performance testing center of excellence", according to the vendor.

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