Census

Build or buy? Census chooses both

Shutterstock image. Copyright: Michele Paccione.

To create a centralized data collection backbone for its survey work, the Census Bureau has decided to use a combination of purchased and self-made tools.

"We have determined that a hybrid approach -- combining a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) system with specific solutions developed by Census experts -- will best meet our needs," Census Bureau Director John Thompson wrote in a May 26 blog post.

The bureau has been facing pressure to speed up its build-or-buy decisions as the 2020 count looms.

Thompson's letter drew on the bureau's recently completed analysis of the Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing (CEDCaP) program. The analysis was conducted with the help of Carnegie Mellon University and the National Academy of Sciences.

CEDCaP, launched in late 2014, aims to centralize data collection for all of Census' surveys.

The analysis recommends that a COTS system -- with a user-friendly drag-and-drop interface that would enable even nontechnical personnel to easily customize functionality -- handle many core CEDCaP capabilities while Census' in-house products augment the work.

The analysis notes that serious concerns about integrating in-house products, which are often developed by separate teams, helped lead to the recommendation of a COTS underpinning.

By adopting the hybrid model rapidly, Census could start testing in 2017 and have the technology up and running for the 2018 end-to-end test, the analysis states.

"This approach meets our data collection and processing goals for the 2020 census and builds the infrastructure to support all of our censuses and surveys in the future," Thompson said.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

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