Information has become a major driving force in economies. In particular, economists and planners everywhere need reliable country economic statistical data as well as unstructured data for all their research and analysis studies, and plans. Access to such data and its management are now greatly facilitated by information technology tools. In particular, recent developments in computer hardware, networking and software have made it that much easier to capture and update such data, make it available through variety of devices especially portable ones, analyze it with statistical software and visualize it in an innovative and dynamic way for effective presentation and impact.
2. Historical Background and Status of Economic databases in Iraq
The Central Organization for Statistics (COS) has been the main official body for economic statistics in Iraq. This body was established during the thirties of the last century as a department in the Ministry of Economy and Transportation. In 1959 it became part of the Ministry of Planning. COS duties include population census, and managing all statistics such as agricultural, industrial, economic, social, financial and monetary, cultural and other statistics related to formal and semi-formal, public and private institutions, companies in general and Individuals, to serve planning, national development and scientific research purposes.
COS carries out numerous surveys on various themes, sometimes in conjunction with international organizations. In 2011, under the Iraq Knowledge Network project, the Central Statistics Organization co-operated with the Kurdistan Region Statistical Office, and various UN agencies (UNFPA, WFP, UNDP, UNDOC, UNESCO, WHO), and USAID, under the overall coordination of the Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit of the UN, on a survey covering socio-economic statistics collected from around 29,000 households at the district level in all 18 governorates of Iraq.
Statistical data collected by COS is now available in printed format or .pdf format but currently, there is no on-line access to the databases maintained by COS.
But in addition, the Central Bank of Iraq also maintains a number of economic databases needed for research and other studies. These are strictly for the bank use and are not available to the general public.
Apart from structured statistical economic data, huge information also exist in unstructured textual reports relating to economic data and are available from a variety of public and private sources. Hardly, any of these is available on-line.
3. What Economic Data are needed?
Economic data or economic statistics refer to data describing an actual economy, past or present. These are typically found in time-series form that is, covering more than one time period or in cross-sectional data in one time period (say for consumption and income levels for sample households). Data may also be collected from surveys of for example individuals and firms or aggregated to sectors and industries of a single economy or for the international economy. A collection of such data in table form comprises a data set.
Methodological economic and statistical elements of the subject include measurement, capture, management, analysis, and publication of data. ‘Economic statistics’ may also refer to a subtopic of official statistics produced by official organizations (e.g. statistical offices, international and intergovernmental organizations). Economic data provide the basis for economic research, whether descriptive or econometric. Data archives are also a key input for assessing the replicability of empirical findings and for use in decision making as to economic policy.
At the level of an economy, many data are organized and compiled according to the methodology of national accounting. Such data include Gross National Product and its components, Gross National Expenditure, Gross National Income, and also the capital stock and national wealth. Other economic indicators include a variety of alternative measures of output, orders, trade, the labor force, confidence, prices, and financial series (e.g., money and interest rates).
For time-series data, measurements can be daily, monthly, quarterly, or annually. Many methods can be used to analyse the data. These include, e.g., time-series analysis using multiple regression, Box-Jenkins analysis, and seasonality analysis. Analysis may be univariate (modeling one series) or multivariate (from several series). Econometricians and economic statisticians formulate models, whether for past relationships or for economic forecasting. Economists use these models to understand past events and to forecast future events, e.g., demand, prices and employment.
Such economic data are organized as public databases for a country. It is anticipated that users of these public economic databases encompass a broad spectrum of planners, policy makers, operational staff, decision makers, and researchers and students.
Public economic databases should be:
Undisputed, consistent and up-to-date socio-economic statistical information that is relevant in practice and for policy and research purposes.
Statistically integrated: system of national accounts and modules
The list and categories of statistical data for Iraq can indeed be very extensive and may include at a high level:
1. National Accounts (output, expenditure, and income) including Gross Domestic Product
o GDP per Capita
o GDP per Person Employed
2. Population by administrative boundaries
o Public sector
o Private sector
4. Industrial production
o Oil and gas
5. Agricultural production
8. Government Revenue
o Oil and gas
9. Capital Investments
10. Consumer Price Indices
11. Monetary statistics
12. Prices and Wages
o High Education
17. Living Conditions
18. Building and construction
19. Environmental Indicators
20. Major Projects
21. Development Plans
22. Household Consumption
23. Public Investment Projects Proposals and Implementation Monitoring Database
24. Environmental data: water, air, land
25. Economic and financial public laws and regulations of relevance to budgeting and planning
26. Pensions and pensioners
The sources of the data cuts across public and private sector as well as NGOs. These sources include:
All Federal Ministries, specially the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Planning and International Co-operation
KRG Government and Provinces administrations
Central Bank of Iraq
4. System Architecture
The data models for the economic databases shown below are not meant to be comprehensive of all the databases listed above but indicative of what they can include. The databases can be distributed physically at several data centers yet interconnected, so as an example the education databases can be with the Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Education, yet they can be accessible through a web portal. The management of such non-centralized databases may present some challenges but it is better to leave each relevant stakeholder to be in charge of the databases they are associated with. It is important however to ensure proper data standards and definitions across these databases. The users will not have to concern themselves with this aspect as they interface through one common portal and they will not be aware who is managing each of the databases.
The first possible data model is indicated below will structure the databases on country and regions/provinces basis. The second model is based on centralized data. In any case, provincial and national data have to be linked. The precise model to be adopted can only be done after a more thorough analysis of the requirements and assessment of actual situation on the ground are made.
Apart from structured data in the databases, unstructured data have to be stored and made searchable as well. These have to be managed by a Content Management System as such as SharePoint. The reports and studies have to be scanned and indexed and this requires major effort to identify which documents are worth including and then scan them in .pdf format.
A web portal needs to be designed to make access and use of the databases easy and intuitive. The portal should enable the user to select, analyze, visualise and download a time series or several time series either in spreadsheet format or as coma-separated values. The web portal should be trilingual (Arabic, Kurdish, English) so that it is usable by all interested parties.
5. New IT Technologies
New developments in information technology are giving new possibilities to how data in large databases can be populated, updated, accessed, analyzed and visualized. Also, with new web-based content management software, unstructured data can be managed, searched and accessed very effectively. In particular the World Wide Web has afforded an incredible platform for hosting and accessing statistical databases and unstructured data.
New Data Base Management Systems (DBMS) software make it possible to design and build very large databases. Several DBMS software is now open source and free such as MYSQL and PostgreSQL. With various DBMS it is possible to set up distributed databases in which storage devices are not all attached to a common processing unit such as the CPU. It may be stored in multiple computers, located in the same physical location; or may be dispersed over a network of interconnected computers. Collections of data can be distributed across multiple physical locations. A distributed database can reside on network servers on the Internet, on corporate intranets or extranets, or on other company networks.
Populating and updating economic databases can now benefit from the possibility of using hand-held devices, whether IPAD like or IPHONE like. It is very realistic now to put survey forms on IPADs, capture the data immediately and even upload to the databases directly on-line. This can reduce the time to collect and upload the data while improving the reliability of the data.
Data visualization software has made considerable progress making it possible to plot data easily. Such visualization software can be incorporated in the portal for the economic databases so that the user can select a specific time series and display it even before downloading the data.
Statistical analysis tools to analyze the data including time series analysis have become more powerful and functional. New powerful tools such as R Project (http://www.r-project.org/) are now available free of charge for statistical computing and graphics, apart from the traditional commercial statistical packages like SPSS and SAS.
Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software has also opened tremendous possibilities for displaying, analyzing and manipulating statistical data based on their geographical location. Economic development agencies use data and GIS tools to retain, grow, and attract businesses. With easy-to-use, modern Web applications and accurate, current data, agencies give community and business leaders the information they need to make investment decisions.
On the hardware front, both processing power and storage have come down dramatically in price and escalated upwards in capability. The cost per Gigabyte of disk storage plummeted from about $ 200,000 in 1980 to about $ 0.25 in 2010. In the same period the price of computing power has dropped by a factor of about 100,000. Nowadays, the average mobile phone has a microchip about the size of the fingernail and can perform about 1 billion calculations per second. By the year 2020, a chip with today’s processing power will cost about a penny, which is the cost of scrap paper we throw in the garbage.
6. Improved Management, Tools and Access to Economic Databases
In the history of information, humans have moved relatively rapidly from an oral storytelling tradition, to manuscripts, to printed books, to filing systems, to databases. Databases were created to solve problems with file-oriented systems. The rapid growth of networked information resources and information representation has led to a reassessment of tools and techniques for information management. The World Wide Web technologies play a central role in redesigning information management tools.
Organizing and retrieving information in databases with a limited volume of information is fairly straightforward, but as the Internet emerged, information storage and retrieval changed radically. As a result, a new generation of databases called WBDBs have been created to meet user needs. Although some research shows that the web has reached a level of maturity in regard to scientific and qualitative content and can be considered a worthwhile source of scientific information, we would like to emphasize the important role web-based databases (WBDBs), play in better and relevant information retrieval.
A database is a collection of data that is organized for easy storage and access These include paper-based tools like dictionaries and libraries of print materials. Computerized databases have existed for decades, and online databases are a product of the earliest days of the Internet. Databases grew from an early database management system (DBMS) in the early 1960s, through networked and hierarchical relationships for data, to SQL-based and relational database models that are in use today.
7. Development Plan and Resources Needed
It is proposed to initiate a large project to establish economic databases for Iraq, design an integrated architecture for the databases, capture, migrate and populate the new databases, and implement it with high availability, resilience and accessibility to be used for study, planning, decision support, and operational purposes by all potential stakeholders. This will be a multi-year project that should be implemented in phases. It would require the full participation and support of all relevant stakeholders in Iraq. Full use of competent contractors with previous expertise in such projects should be made including the private sector in Iraq. The main activities of this project will include:
• Develop project statement of work and budgetary requirement
• Obtain the backing of main stakeholders and the buy-in of all stakeholders
• Develop detailed project plan and assemble project team
• Inventory the existing databases and data including type, location, size and format
• Identify the stakeholders/users of data, their locations and their precise data requirements
• Ensure definitions of each type of data in agreement with all stakeholders; agree on data standards
• Develop the appropriate information architecture for the integrated databases
• Develop strategies to capture non-computer data in digital format
• Develop strategy for data migration from existing databases and ensuring data quality
• Design, acquire computer and networking hardware
• Design, build and test the new databases
• Load the data into the new databases including migration from existing databases
• Design, build and test the portal to connect to all the existing databases as well as the new databases, and provide easy access, processing and visualization tools
• Develop processes for ensuring and monitoring data quality
• Train users on the new environment
• Deploy the databases in a phased manner
• Review the implementation and make any necessary changes
This project will require multi-specialized team members composed of project managers, economists, statisticians, and software and hardware engineers. The main cost involved will be human power cost in designing, collecting and uploading the databases. Inevitably, COS will play a leading role in the project as many of the statistics are collected through surveys and censuses conducted by COS. However, the involvement of other stakeholders is vitally important.
It is difficult to define the budget required now but detailed budgeting exercise needs to be carried out with salient budget items covering:
· Initial studies and planning
· Manpower costs
· Software, networking and hardware costs
· Data capturing and loading
· Testing and launching
8. Project Critical Success Factors
· Secure Top Level Support
It is highly important to secure top level support for this project. This should include all the federal ministries and regional/provincial administrations as well as other independent authorities and NGOs. All stakeholders need to be engaged and feel part of the project and stand to benefit from it.
· Clearly Define Scope
A clearly defined scope is one of the most important secrets to success in a software project. Understanding and defining the requirements, especially the data requirements, stakeholder expectations and deliverables associated with a software project is all-important. The team should fully comprehend the scope of the project by properly documenting it based on the software development methodology being used and by creating effective avenues for communication.
· Detailed Planning and Appropriate Staffing
Detailed planning needs to be carried out with all activities and resources well defined. The team needs to be staffed properly in order to deliver the project. Detailed analysis of the tasks required to complete the project should be carried out and the skill sets needed are identified. Risks have to be analyzed and proper action prepared for each risk.
· Manage Project Changes
Changes in requirements, scope, resource availability, and many other factors are inevitable. The critical success factor is to effectively deal with these changes. Communication is critical, as a project’s scope changes as it unfolds.
· Set Realistic Deadlines
Projects often fail due to unrealistic deadlines and schedules that have not been properly thought through. However, successful project schedules have been thought through carefully by the team and met by those performing the work. A team can work together to set realistic deadlines.
· Track Progress
The progress made needs to be tracked toward the objectives captured in the scope. Good metrics need to be implemented in order for the team to measure the real movement being made toward completion. Tracking progress can be made by measuring key areas such as schedule variation, quality, scope coverage and budget usage.
9. Potential Impact
This project if completed can lead to significant improvements in the decision-making process of the government at various levels, better studies and research work by economists and planners, vastly-improved access to data by all stakeholders and effective management of the economic data of the country. It will be difficult now to estimate the financial benefits of this project but this should be done as part of the initial scoping and planning process.
Many countries are investing considerable resources for the capture and management of their statistical economic data. Iraq, trying now to emerge from a long period of stagnation and wars, has many added reasons for having adequate economic data to use in the proper planning, analysis and monitoring of its future development. Thanks to past effort, it will be building on past knowledge and experience. This proposed project therefore has very important priority and should be initiated in the near future.
COS Website: http://cosit.gov.iq/english/
3. Databases: From Paper-based to Web-based, Alireza Isfandyari Moghaddam,
Islamic Azad University, Hamedan Branch
International Economic Databases and Directories Available on the Internet:
· World Bank Indicators
· Google Pubic Data http://www.google.ca/publicdata/directory?hl=en_US&dl=en_US#!
· World Economic Outlook Databases (WEO) Time series data from the IMF for GDP growth, inflation, unemployment, payments balances, exports, imports, external debt, capital flows, commodity prices, more.
· International Financial Statistics (IFS) Approximately 32,000 time series from the IMF covering more than 200 countries starting in 1948. Includes exchange rates, Fund accounts and the main global and country economic indicators.
· FAO Agricultural Statistics
· The Conference Board Total Economy Database™, (TED) is a comprehensive database with annual data covering GDP, population, employment, hours, labor quality, capital services, labor productivity, and total factor productivity for about 123 countries in the world. TED was developed by the Groningen Growth and Development Centre (University of Groningen, The Netherlands) in the early 1990s, and starting in the late 1990s, it was produced in partnership with The Conference Board.
· Econ Stats: The Economic Statistics and Indicators Database
· Development Data
*)IT Specialist and former OPEC and ICARDA official. Paper presented to Iraq Economic Forum- Beirut 30th. March – 1st. April 2013
copyright Iraqi Economists Network – 6th. April 2013