The head of the ABS is blaming IBM for the census fiasco

It’s rare that an IT supplier is publicly castigated by its client, but this is exactly what’s unfolding in the current parliamentary enquiry into the failures in this year’s online census.

The website for the census went down in August on the night of polling, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics later apologising and attributing the failures to denial-of-service attacks from undisclosed sources.

Guardian Australia picked up ABS chief statistician David Kalisch’s submission to the enquiry on Friday afternoon before it was deleted online, and reported his unambiguous assessment of IBM’s primary role in the August debacle.

“The online census system was hosted by IBM under contract to the ABS and the DDoS attack should not have been able to disrupt the system,” said Kalisch’s submission, adding that a risk management plan — that included coverage against DDoS attacks — was part of IBM’s remit in the contract.

He said that during the year IBM had briefed his organisation about “operational preparedness and resilience to DDoS attacks”, and that the ABS didn’t undertake independent testing as Big Blue’s assurances were deemed adequate.

The stats chief conceded that was not sufficient in retrospect.

“Despite extensive planning and preparation by the ABS for the 2016 census, this risk was not adequately addressed by IBM and the ABS will be more comprehensive in its management of risk in the future.”

IBM Australia has been contacted for comment.

The Australian newspaper last week reported that at least two executives have been sacked at IBM six weeks after prime minister Malcolm Turnbull called for heads to roll. The newspaper did not name the execs but did state the departed included “a head of global technology services and project director” intimately involved with the census project.

Kalisch also said in his submission to the senate that his resources had become increasingly tight at his organisation over the last 15 years.

“[ABS] staff numbers have fallen by 14% and the budget appropriation (in real terms) has also fallen by 14%,” he said.

“In contrast, the demands on the ABS to properly measure the economy, society and the environment, and respond to the requirements of governments, has increased and become more complex.”

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