CBS successfully updates application landscape with Phoenix
/ Author: Jan Hendriks
Statistics Netherlands (CBS) has worked step-by-step towards a new application landscape in recent years. The aim of this operation was to be able to perform all CBS surveys more efficiently and to ensure business continuity. The development and implementation of this Phoenix project, well managed to finish on time and on budget, was recently completed successfully.
Major step forward
‘In the past, we had made efforts to standardise the process of data collection and harmonise the observation systems we use,’ says CBS programme manager Joost Huurman. ‘Until recently, however, we were still using numerous systems for data collection. What's more, all these systems were interwoven in one way or another. The result was that if we adjusted something in the architecture at point A, this also had undesirable consequences at point B.’ The sizeable IT project was characterised by incremental delivery of production capabilities, with more and more statistics being transferred to the new applications as the project progressed. The transfer of the last statistic was completed on 31 December 2021. ‘The commissioning of Phoenix constitutes a major step forward,’ says Huurman.
According to Huurman, the new IT architecture offers several advantages. ‘The observation part of surveys can take place in several ways, ranging from an internet survey to visiting the respondent's home. Whereas in one survey the respondent receives a reminder to participate, this is not applicable to another survey. In the past, this desired degree of flexibility used to signify a lot of manual operation. This time, as we thought carefully about a design-driven architecture at the front end in which we set up all the parameters correctly in one go, it means far less manual operation; the architecture is now set up in such a way that we can also easily implement potential new forms of data collection, such as via an app, in a plug-and-play manner. In addition, parts of the IT landscape can be renewed over time without too much effect on other parts. Getting respondents to fill in a survey via their browser on a tablet or smartphone is now also much easier to achieve, as is working with a non-standard questionnaire.’ For the respondents themselves, both companies and individuals, the new IT architecture also provides benefits, including more flexibility and greater user-friendliness.
‘The analytical skills of the CBS staff in particular have made a major contribution to the successful delivery of this project’
According to Huurman, much attention was also paid to the organisational side. ‘We have set up a proper management structure and created the right conditions for further development of Phoenix. As manual work has been greatly reduced, we need fewer operational people. We have used part of the resulting financial leeway, without forced redundancies, to invest in an innovation team and in additional management space for the systems.’ According to Huurman, those involved within CBS are enthusiastic about Phoenix. ‘We see this in all layers of the organisation, even outside the group of colleagues who are involved in the data collection process. The departments responsible for processing the statistics, for example, are pleased that all data can now be retrieved in a uniform manner. The archiving function has also been improved, making it easier to find data. Phoenix also makes it possible to register all contacts with a company in one place.’ According to Huurman, the performance of the IT landscape has also improved significantly. ‘Where in the old situation servers could break down and there was a risk of outages, the new architecture is very robust. With the realisation of Phoenix, we have properly secured the business continuity of our observation process.’
Professor of Cybersecurity Governance Bibi van den Berg from Leiden University is impressed by Phoenix. As a member of the IT Advisory Board of CBS, she was involved in this special project from the start. ‘Large IT projects for the national government are almost invariably chaotic. Budget and deadline overruns are the order of the day. So it's really quite exceptional that CBS managed to realise this project within the deadline and without exceeding the budget.’ According to Van den Berg, there are several reasons for this dashing exploit. ‘First of all, CBS gave the project a great deal of thought and chose not to turn it into a megalomaniac operation, but to compartmentalise the project very intelligently. They started with the realisation of the simple cases and then cleverly used that experience to build the complex cases.’
‘Nor did they allow themselves to be tempted to change course midway through. The latter you often see happening in government organisations when reality changes. This change in reality then often leads to an adjustment of the architectural requirements. Since those requirements were not included in the original design, however, this immediately has major consequences for the budget and the planning.' Besides the process aspect, Van den Berg recognises another important factor that has contributed to Phoenix' success: ‘I rarely come across an environment with such high-quality people as at CBS. Their analytical skills in particular have contributed greatly to the successful delivery of the project. I hope that other government departments will benefit from this project and consult CBS before embarking on a major IT project of their own. CBS' lessons learned can be of great value to them.’