We the People

Earlier this week, Australia paused (or so suggested the advertising campaign that we should) to fill in our once in every 5 years Census- counting the people for the future benefit of the people.

Given that there was a strong focus on completing the data online there was (the inevitable?) noise about privacy concerns.

Come just after dinner on Census night, Australians took leave from cleaning up the dishes and turned on their computers and sought to fulfill a key societal obligation (as one is fined if you don’t complete the Census within a defined time period).

And …

The website was down.

And …

The telephone help centre said to call back the next day.

And …

There wasn’t great communication (creating the unimaginative but very accurate #censusfail tag).

The organizing agency – the Australian Bureau of Statistics – came out the next morning and said that the problems had been caused by overseas hacking.

But …

The Government Minister with responsibility for the agency then came out and said it wasn’t an attack.

We could stop there and we think that you would probably sense where we are going to take this lesson from the lectern.

But … we cant help ourselves.

There are many lessons that organizations can take from this.  Here are a couple.

Lesson One – if you are wanting everyone to be online at the same time don’t be surprised when everyone is online at the same time.  We read that encouraging that type of online behavior can replicate the impact of a large denial of service attack.

Lesson Two – when something goes wrong communicate early and often.  You cant over-communicate in these circumstances.  Say that you don’t know what has happened but you are looking into it.  Say that you know what happened and are making sure it doesn’t happen again.  People (or at least most) will understand and let you get on with your job.  What people (or at least most) don’t appreciate is a vacuum.

Lesson Three – get your messages right (so related to Lesson Two).  This is not the time for semantics – there has either been an attack or not.  If there has been – then say so. If there hasn’t been – then say so.  But please be consistent.

Lesson Four – take responsibility.  As tempting as it may be to pass the blame to the IT tech that didn’t plug in the back up server properly, everyone needs to stand up and take their share of the blame if there is blame to go around.  This is from the top of the organization down.

Lesson Five – never forget that feeling that you had when you realized that five years worth of work will be remembered by one incident.  Use that feeling to push you for the next 5 years as you plan for the 2021 Census.

Lesson Six – you know that checking that you are getting done now to see that the website is safe from “overseas hackers” … well … you probably should have had that done before you went live and in relation to Lessons Three and Four you probably should have been telling people that you had sought that assurance.

Lesson Seven – hope everyone gets distracted by the Olympics!

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