Once every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau sets out to provide a complete, accurate count of the population and housing in the entire country. That means counting every person once, and in the right place, to provide the federal government with data to better understand and serve the American people.
Since 1790, the Bureau has undertaken this important mission. But this year, the 2020 census will hit a number of milestones. Not only is it the most efficient census ever planned, it’s also the country’s first digital decennial census.
Success for the census relies on America’s participation, but gaining that participation is evolving with each passing decade. From 1950 to 2010, census self-response rates steadily declined, revealing a population with new expectations, preferences and communication methods. The Census Bureau knew it had to catch up.
To navigate this new digital territory, the Census Bureau uses Splunk to take a data-forward approach to measuring America.
Splunk’s dashboards, reports and data visualizations are a critical part of daily workflows at the Bureau, delivering real-time insights to inform how teams as varied as security, IT, application, middleware and senior leadership approach questions, make decisions and turn data into action.
Results from the census will:
While embracing digital transformation has helped make operations more efficient, with fewer systems in 2020 than in 2010, the Bureau still has 35 operations and 52 systems spanning the country — which include servers in the cloud, regional offices, a data center in Missouri and countless field devices for door-to-door enumerators.
To support its extensive operations and new digital options, the Bureau relies on Splunk to monitor and optimize its complex environment, unifying dozens of disparate systems and data sources onto a single platform.
“For us to monitor every component — whether network, database or middleware — in an automated way, we had to rely on Splunk,” Kalluri says.
“Before this census, we never had the ability to bring all our data together to help the management team visualize and optimize our processing cycles,” says Subrahmanyam Korisapati, assistant division chief of the Bureau’s Address & Database and Middleware Services division. By providing an easier way to access and analyze the Bureau’s data, Splunk allows teams across the organization to harness these insights for more informed decisions and better outcomes.
Data privacy and security are always top priorities for the Census Bureau — and the digital nature of the 2020 census only raises the stakes. “For decades, the Census Bureau has been securely collecting this data,” Kalluri says. “We take confidentiality and privacy very seriously because we know that our success relies on the public continuing to trust us.”
To uphold the rigorous security standards outlined in Title 13 and Title 26 of the U.S. Code, the Census Bureau goes to great lengths to ensure security from every angle — including extensively training employees, encrypting all 52 of its systems, and regularly running database, credentials and network scans. With Splunk at the center of its security operations center, the Census Bureau is now able to proactively identify vulnerabilities, effectively isolate and respond to incidents, and troubleshoot issues faster on a single pane of glass.
Providing a digital option for the 2020 census has also provided new opportunities for the Bureau to partner with public and private-sector organizations to better protect citizen data and prevent fraud. “The ability to monitor that information and detect any kind of fraudulent information,” Buckner says, “is a huge improvement over the mail and paper processes we've had for the last 60 years.”
The fusion center is where much of the magic happens. Powered by the Splunk Data-to-Everything Platform, this cross-functional hub unifies data from the network operations center, security operations center and departments like self-response, quality assurance and field operations. Every day, team members ranging from directors to assistant division chiefs rely on this information to intelligently view and act on data across the organization.
“In the fusion center, Splunk gives us visibility into all our operational aspects,” Kalluri says. “We can see concerted efforts to disrupt or break into the system, but also go beyond a security perspective to see the types of responses we’re receiving and which geographic areas they’re coming from. This data allows us to intelligently strategize on which areas are doing well or require more attention, then react based on our advertising campaign.”
Armed with this real-time data, the Bureau is able to engage underrepresented communities like never before. “This year, we’ll be looking at response data in real time to evaluate how we might improve different strategies and tactics to increase awareness and get people to the census,” Buckner says. “If we see a community falling behind, we can then deploy tactics to try to help them catch up in terms of response rates.”
In 2010, address listers from the Census Bureau walked every street in America, checking that each address is accounted for in the Bureau’s master database — an effort that required unimaginable amounts of time (and comfortable shoes). The Splunk platform is helping the bureau reduce the amount of door-to-door work, making processes far more efficient by consolidating systems and implementing digital alternatives.
For the 2020 census, the Census Bureau has debuted “in-office address canvassing,” in which Bureau experts use GIS technology, satellite imagery and other data to verify the correct address and location for each housing unit. “It’s a huge amount of savings and better use of taxpayer dollars,” Kalluri says.
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