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  • Entering the Big Data Era — Will Traditional Statistics Still Be in Demand?

Entering the Big Data Era — Will Traditional Statistics Still Be in Demand?

The development of a national data management system, along with its architecture and ontology, is one of the key issues for a future cabinet, believes Maxim Akimov, First Deputy of the Chief of the Government Staff of the Russian Federation. A discussion at a panel session on data in the digital era at the XIX April International Academic Conference at HSE looked into the key challenges in regards to Russian statistics and possible responses to them.

A year ago, Russia’s Federal Statistics Service (Rosstat) lost its independent status and became part of the Ministry of Economic Development. Today, the Ministry is discussing how to develop the statistics service and improve the quality of its operations, says Savva Shipov, Deputy Minister of Economic Development. ‘First of all, we are talking about digitalizing all statistical collection systems and processing, harmonizing all state information systems (there are over 320 of them today), and creating a unified digital platform,’ he notes. At the Russian Investment Forum in Sochi, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev issued directions for the creation of a national data management system, which will become one of the key infrastructure elements in Russia’s digital economy, he added.

‘It has become common to refer to the digital economy,’ says Leonid Gokhberg, First Vice Rector of HSE, adding: ‘In the process of creating and implementing a data management system, it is essential to understand and outline the role of state statistics (as well as the statistics service itself), conceptualize its model, systematize approaches to modernizing the procedures of information collection and integration within the context of digitalization, and interdepartmental coordination of statistical activities, as well as consider new analytical opportunities for administrative, open and Big Data,’ he said. Attention should be placed on methodology, harmonizing Russian statistics with international data, and launching statistical monitoring in new fields. ‘The respective statistical services of EU member states have some interesting experience in this regard. They are proactive in their communication with society, business, the state and the global community,’ Mr. Gokhberg said. He also emphasized that the statistical service should be independent in the development of its methods and data reporting.

Leonid Gokhberg also presented a report - ‘Advanced Model of State Statistics in the Digital Era’. Here, he reflected on key areas of structural and functional transformation in Russian state statistics as the basis for the future National Data Management System. In particular, it looked at organizing dialogue between the statistical service and its users, integrating data from various sources, and intellectual work with information in the context of Russia’s currently digitalizing economy. The report is based on research conducted by the HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge (HSE ISSEK) in regards to improving the methods of statistical monitoring, creating and altering international statistical standards, and developing methods of statistical information collection, processing, analysis and distribution.

We are entering a ‘data society’, which is being generated without direct human involvement, said Yaroslav Kuzminov, HSE Rector, noting such Big Data as phone calls and geolocation databases. We have to discuss and quickly solve questions related to privacy. ‘Big Data systems will soon reach a point where statistics or sociology won’t be needed,’ he states, adding: ‘We’ll be able to get data from arrays of phone calls, GPS tracking, etc. That’s why the big question is - do we need to do traditional statistics?’

‘We might want to know about the total number of tickets? Or GDP numbers? The size of the population? So, what is Big Data? It is huge arrays of non-structured information,’ Alexander Surinov, Head or Rosstat, said in disagreement. He believes that Big Data is really a major challenge for the statistical service, noting that it’s ‘stupid not to notice it,’ but ‘it’s too early to say that we are ready to use it.’ Mr. Surinov also noted that the service is very hopeful that the new digital platform for statistical data management will be developed. Another important part of the standardization process could be the creation of a unified register for the purpose of monitoring objects based on Rosstat’s upgraded statistical register. ‘As of today, we face the serious challenge of calculating added value in the country with outstaffing and outsourcing – this is a "fabless manufacturing",’ he said.

The outdated organization of the state’s information base means that departments regularly manipulate methods of calculating performance targets. In turn, this results in orders being executed and targets being achieved only “on paper”’, laments Andrey Zhulin, HSE Vice Rector. In addition to direct the budgetary costs of collecting statistics, there are considerable costs borne by organizations for preparing and presenting statistics. In fact, there are 133 forms of statistical reporting today, he noted.

‘Total annual costs incurred only by public organizations and social administration bodies come to over 66.2 billion roubles,’ Zhulin calculated, adding: ‘We must move towards a unified, integrated and distributed model for statistical, reporting and administrative data collection, as well as processing, storage, reporting and distribution.’ ‘We also need to reform the systems of statistical data collection, processing, analysis and representation, and also create a system for effective interaction with users of statistical information,’ he emphasized.


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