Stats NZ’s data transformation: Where it stands after 5 years

Efforts to modernise how the New Zealand statistics agency work meant it was ready for the pandemic’s work-from-home requirements and a deluge of new data.

A laptop user with magnifying lens examines binary data.
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Conventional wisdom is that it takes 10 years to become an overnight success. So, Stats NZ has done well to get its data transformation programme up to speed in half that time, ensuring the department could quickly pivot to providing new data from disparate sources when the pandemic struck.

Stats NZ chief digital officer Chris Buxton says when the pandemic struck in spring 2020, the department had already enabled 95% of the organisation to working from home following the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake when Statistics House was damaged.

Data gathering during the pandemic

The big issue with the COVID-19 lockdowns was that the field interview workforce couldn’t leave home, and this affected data collection in areas such as monitoring the price of groceries. In addition, the New Zealand government started asking new questions related to the lockdown, such as how the public was responding and how key infrastructure like broadband networks was holding up.

To find those answers at speed, Stats NZ turned to the people holding that data, such as the supermarkets and the telcos. It could handle a large amount of data from a range of businesses because the technology deployed during its five-year digital transformation “had given us the mechanism to decouple data and store it in a secure way,” Buxton says.

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