back to article IBM makes meek apology for Oz #CensusFail, offers no fail detail

IBM has finally broken its silence about the failure of Australia's online census, but only with meaningless PR blather that leaves the cause of the mess a mystery. Australians were supposed to complete their census forms online on Tuesday evening, but the site crashed, leading to allegations that offshore hackers had staged a …

  1. Phil Kingston Silver badge

    Even if I tried for 24 hours straight I doubt I could come up with a more meaningless, waste of time, factless statement.

    That's clearly been through multiple teams of lawyers before being let out.

    Respect for IBM was already shot to pieces, this statement makes it worse.

    1. trashsilo
      Thumb Up

      Great post and very real; Great work, El Reg and Patrick Gray.

      To draw back the curtain even a little helps us all.

      "Lawyers are the first refuge of the incompetent." (Aaron Allston)

    2. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      It's not proven yet that IBM was at fault here. This has happened before; Air New Zealand, if I remember correctly - the CEO went online blaming IBM shortly after the systems crashed, it turned out to be their own fault.

      In this case, the crucial statement may well turn out to be "IBM and the ABS decided to use geoblocking" - it's not beyond the realms of possibility that IBM included a dedicated DDoS blocker but this was cut from the proposal by ABS on grounds of cost.

      This may well end up being IBM's issue, but don't jump to conclusions.

      1. Adrian Harvey

        <blockquote>It's not proven yet that IBM was at fault here. This has happened before; Air New Zealand, if I remember correctly - the CEO went online blaming IBM shortly after the systems crashed, it turned out to be their own fault.</blockquote>

        The company I worked for at the time was hosted in the same datacentre when that UPS failed that your talking about. We only had only one issue as for the most part our HA systems kicked in. We had our HA cluster nodes running of different UPS feeds. One system was not migrated to the cluster yet....

        I'm told Air NZ had their failover/hot standby system offline at the time.

        footnote: That datacentre was old, tier 1, with a history of such problems, and IBM no longer use it having built a new one of higher grade nearby.

    3. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Was anyone actually expecting IBM, ABS or anyone else to come out, put their hands up, and admit they'd fucked things up in the worst way possible and it was all their fault?

      No one is going to accept responsibility for something they don't believe they are responsible for, no one is going to apologise for anything they don't feel the need to apologise for, especially when doing so could be read as accepting blame and being responsible.

      Expecting anything meaningful to be said by any party in the midst of a shit-storm and blame game which could prove very costly all round is really just wishful thinking or naivety.

    4. Adrian Harvey

      Given that IBM have a policy of never blaming the customer as it's bad for future business with them, a bland statement like this frequently means that the customer was at the root of the issue..... Can't be sure, of course, and a train wreck like this rarely has a single cause anyway.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Poor IBM - NOT!

    Over the past 8 years or so, I've wondered about the pain IBM must be feeling, since their Hey-Day.

    Now I understand. Downsizing got rid of the really smart people, and maintained bus loads of Managers.

    End result? #CensusFail

    #CensusFail now = #GoodbyeIBM.

  3. Julian 8

    Its IBM

    Come one, all the good staff leave or get made redundant. If you can write a good internal blog you'll survive, anyone else - sorry.

    If you are an intern, you'll do your year - they are good as they are cheap.

    I know of a large UK organisation that uses / used IBM for the online presence. A Black Friday a few years ago it went down in a big way so they were suing IBM for it.

    I mean, its not as if BF was out of the blue, everyone knows it is coming so why not be ready..... oh its IBM

  4. s. pam

    Warning: Aussie census goon squad coming soon!

    We did a four year secondment from the UK in Sydney.

    When the census was last run, as British citizens we couldn't participate (for obvious reasons!). But NO, that didn't stop the "Census Goon Squad" as SWMBO called them turning up at our door threatening us with an AU$10,000 fine for not filling in a census form. On the third go-around these moppets had a police man with them who demanded to see our passport/visas which were dutifully recorded and they finally pissed off.

    Moral of my story: I hope those who got screwed over by YACWS (Yet Another Crappy Website Screw-up) don't get fined, but being Oz, they likely will!

    1. smudge Silver badge

      Re: Warning: Aussie census goon squad coming soon!

      When the [Australian] census was last run, as British citizens we couldn't participate (for obvious reasons!).

      Sorry, but it's not obvious to me. Are non-Australian people excluded from the census? Here in the UK, all households have to take part, no matter who is resident there.

      Excluding people because of their nationality defeats the main purpose of a census, which is to collect comprehensive and accurate data.

      1. s. pam

        Re: Warning: Aussie census goon squad coming soon!

        Yes here in Blighty we care about all, gotta keep Crapita working.

        It's not so much that we weren't Aussies as it was we didn't fill it in as it specifically said "Mandatory for all Australian Citizens" and we clearly weren't.

        That must have made the IBM sausage grinder spit out its dummy!

    2. Adam 1 Silver badge

      Re: Warning: Aussie census goon squad coming soon!

      "International visitors

      If you are visiting Australia on Census night, you are required to participate. Your accommodation provider will give you a form or details of how to complete the Census online."


  5. Tascam Holiday

    As the saying is likely to go...

    Nobody ever got hired for buying IBM.

  6. wolfetone Silver badge

    You know who the real winner is out of all this though?

    IBM's PR person. They still get paid for writing that crap.

    1. theblackhand Silver badge

      And everything was going so well for the spokes droid, until the sticky notes they used to identify their ass and their elbow fell off and they started talking out their elbow....

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Still cannot log in to census site

    tried with Fedora, Centos, Ubuntu, Firefox and SLED with 32 & 64 bit OSs on three different physical machines and several virtual ones and with Chrome, Firefox (current and esr) with private and open browsing and with extensions off and always the ABS web site refuses to give a "LOGIN SCREEN".

    Complain to ABS tomorrow

    signed persistant

  8. earplugs

    ABS Head Should Roll

    For the first time in Australia's history, the Australian Census is a complete fail. Data from less than 2 million households was recorded, and that may be junk for a number of reasons. David Kalisch should be sacked.

    1. Visitant

      Re: ABS Head Should Roll

      I'm sure he will be, but I'm surprised he hasn't already fallen on his sword. It's obvious now that he was covering his arse by not contacting McCormack & Turnbull earlier, in the vain hope that the techs would fix the issues sometime during the night.

      Now he's got the gall to say it's fixed, so get on and do it. Well, no, actually, I've lost all confidence in the ABS after this clusterf#ck.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ABS Head Should Roll

      Nah - get rid of the entire ABS. They are just oxygen thieves anyway.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Learn from Canada Census 2016? no

    After the evening news Census night I guess 20 million Canadians logged on to the census site and crashed it, but it came up again unlike #CensusFail.

  10. MotionCompensation


    English is not my native language, and I don't live in Australia, but I still tried to translate the IBM press release to something more meaningful. Here it comes:

    “We genuinely regret the inconvenience that has occurred."

    We're sorry for the effects of our screw-up, but not for the screw-up itself, because if we say so we might be sued or something.

    "We want to thank the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Signal Directorate and [Australian cyber-security chief] Alastair MacGibbon for their continued support"

    We still want your business, even after all the hate mail you sent us.

    "IBM’s priority over the last two days was to work with the ABS to restore the Census site."

    We were so clueless about what went wrong, that we forgot to communicate with anyone.

    "We are committed to our role in the delivery of this project."

    Read the fine print of the contract, we can't be held accountable for the result.

    "Continuing to maintain the privacy and security of personal information is paramount."

    We're don't really know whether any information was stolen or not.

    "The Australian Signals Directorate has confirmed no data was compromised."

    These guys say nothing was stolen. Don't take their word for it though.

    "Our cyber-security experts are partnering with national intelligence agencies to ensure the ongoing integrity of the site."

    We realized we don't have a clue about what to do in a case like this and decided to bring in the experts.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here's how it works...

    I have no idea what happened in Australia. But here's half a dozen projects I've seen, in a nutshell:

    Reasonably competent System Integrator IT Architects (and yes there sure are a lot still remaining, even in IBM) make reasonable recommendations.

    Public Sector Client doesn't have the budget, doesn't understand risk, signs off on a risk, orders a different design.

    Reasonably competent System Integrator IT Architects beg and plead.

    Public Sector Client doesn't fathom that "risk" can actually "happen" and continually ignores recommendations.

    Dejected System Integrator Architects implement what they can and start drinking.

    Things predictably explode.

    Public Sector Client blames System Integrator Publically.

    System Integrator management releases meaningless PR response despite sitting on years of correspondence that would implicate Public Sector Client, because they want to get hired again, and Public Sector Client dam well knows it's not SI's fault and that's just how things go around here, over and over, year after year, project after project.

    Defeated System Integrator Architect ponders career alternatives.

    Again, without a clue what happened in Australia, I've seen similar things happen across multiple continents.

    People can bitch & complain at IBM, Accenture, Deloitte, KPMG, CGI, HP, Oracle, etc... but world continues the way it goes, clients will continue to be clueless, and you can either strive to understand it, perhaps make some effort to improve it - or try to feel superior by misguided platitudes.

    1. Dagg

      Re: Here's how it works...

      Reasonably competent System Integrator IT Architects (and yes there sure are a lot still remaining, even in IBM) make reasonable recommendations.

      The problem here is the SALES idiots that over sold a cheap substandard solution.

      The competent architects should be involved in the bid process (I normally was) from that you then work out how much and how long. That is what you should be bidding, but no, some sales idiot looking for a commission says "They won't buy for that, we'll just drop they price and screw them over with scope changes" (been there) when you as architect get to deliver you have a major WTF moment!

  12. Oengus
    Black Helicopters

    Doesn't explain

    "IBM’s priority over the last two days was to work with the ABS to restore the Census site."

    Nothing in this explains why it took more than two days to recover after a DoS attack. DDoS attacks are so common nowadays that most sites recover after a few hours. Many high profile sites just experience intermittent slowness during DDoS attacks. Why has the Cenus site been down for so long?

    <conspiracy theory>What aren't they telling us?</conspiracy theory>

  13. senrik1


    Service was 'restored' yesterday..... but with the same errors:

    "Network Error (dns_server_failure)

    Your request could not be processed because an error occurred contacting the DNS server.

    The DNS server may be temporarily unavailable, or there could be a network problem.

    For assistance, contact your network support team."

    this was after browsing to the Australian bureau of statistic web site....

    I call shenanigans.

    #censusfail #censusSTILLfail

    1. Mark 65

      Re: Meh

      From other sites I have read, their marvellous geo-blocking includes DNS servers so if you use Google DNS for example you get a knock-back. If you use Telstra DNS - which is sluggish and shite - you'll get through. You couldn't make this shit up.

      1. Brian Scott

        Re: Meh

        Geo-blocking DNS? WTF? That's just being stupid.

        I saw a lot of screen shots in the media that were actually DNS failures. That explains something I suppose.

  14. dan1980

    Dear ABS,

    This is where arrogance gets you. This is what happens when you grow so full of your own importance that you believe yourself to be infallible.

    You answered every concern and question with a combination of boilerplate talking points and condescending disregard. You hoped to just push through, ignoring the people and attempting to trade on a record far more tarnished than you imagine.

    If trust in you was urged, based on a perfect record then that trust is forever gone. You don't get a second chance at infallibility.

    Blaming people does not unscramble an egg and apologies do not keep our data secure.

    To Malcolm Turnbull,

    There was a model that the Australian people trusted. That model was a paper form for an anonymous collection of statistical data. That model persisted through each cycle and with each change in leadership and it persisted because every time changes were suggested, independent report reinforced the status-quo and thoroughly rejected anything that had the potential to impact the privacy of the people and their trust in the census.

    The current ABS, under David Kalisch, has ignored every previous assessment in favour of his own agenda. He has discounted the well-reasoned criticisms from a wide range of people who understand the situation intimately.

    I do not hold responsible a minister only three weeks into his post, but if he continues to pretend the ABS are faultless then he will become part of the problem that has lead us here: the idea the the ABS should be trusted without question.

    Scrap the results already submitted. Cancel the census. Replace the entire senior management of the ABS. Amend the laws to prevent the ABS ever retaining personally-identifiable information again. Set up a genuinely independent privacy body who must review proposed changes and whose decision is binding. Reschedule the census for 2018. Revert to delivering a paper form to every household.

    Then, and only then, can the ABS start to rebuild it's imagine.

    Or, you know, just spout a few strong words and follow them up with a few weak inquiries without actually addressing the issue here and now. That's probably easier.


    1. GrumpyOldBloke

      Sorry Dan, I can't see your appeal to reason falling on anything but deaf ears. The Westminster system has completely failed in Canberra. With senior members of parliament like Dutton and Brandis being ex public servants and others having never known life outside the public sector we now have a system where the public sector is representing itself and no one is speaking for the civilian population. The public sector are making out like bandits with every power grab they can get their dirty mits on. Turnbull has compounded his failure as a politician by not recognising what the issue was with the census. No one cares about a site going down, this is Oz it could have been laughed off. But 'the most significant invasion of privacy ever perpetrated on Australians' flys right over his head. The LNP almost lost an election by pandering to their worst impulses and those of the Canberra elite and they still haven't figured it out.

  15. Winkypop Silver badge

    Does anyone else smell bullshit?


  16. David Roberts Silver badge

    Still missing the main issue here.

    In the UK the census has always had personal data.

    At least, name age and profession for each person in the house on census day.

    This is now published on line.

    Sadly the UK has stopped the census money?

    However the previous data is invaluable for researching your ancestry.

    If you fill in paper forms these days some poor sod will have to key the data in for it to be analysed (or at least check the results of the OCR scan). The data is then on a computer. How does this decrease the long term risk of hacking or disclosure compared to directly keying the data via a web form? Granted that sending the data unencrypted on Census Day seems a dumb move.

    Bottom line: at the moment I'm not seeing the major benefit of using paper. Just a major extra cost.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Rise and fall..

    ..of IBM has already been well chronicled by Robert Cringely. The astounding bit is that IBM continues down the exact path to destruction (over-promise, underbid, don't deliver, pay fines or sort it out in court) that he laid out over a year ago. Hollowing out a company for transient "shareholder value" is simply a shell game to reward the C-level managers and large investors at the expense of customers and employees. The real trick is knowing when to jump off the gravy train before it hits the wall.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019