Thursday, March 16, 2006

ICT Statistics Reference Group Meeting: Table Top Sushi Trains and Better Than Tourism

This week I attended my second meeting at the Australian Bureau of Statistics at ABS House in Canberra:
"The ABS established an ICT reference group in early 2004 involving government, industry, academic and community representatives. The aim of the reference group is to improve the usefulness of ICT statistics in Australia from a variety of sources. The reference group provides a high level forum for understanding, improving and developing ICT statistics, providing members with the opportunity to discuss and consider strategies to address ICT statistical issues ..."

Items of note from the meeting:

1. MEETING OPENED AT 10:45AM. The meeting is in the Australian Bureau of Statistics board room, which has a table which seats 40 people. This is so large I suggested they run a sushi train around the table to deliver papers. ;-)

Something I did notice was that only three people, including me, had laptop computers (they were all sub-notebooks with 12 inch screens). In contrast, at a typical ACS Council meeting almost everyone has a computer in front of them, all networked together. The ABS has power and Ethernet cabled into the table, so I have suggested they offer access to attendees at the next meeting.

2. MINUTES FROM LAST MEETING WERE PRESENTED. My notes from the meeting are at <>. Action items were covered in the agenda.

3. EMERGING TRENDS AND POLICY ISSUES FOR ICT STATISTICS: We went around the room collecting ideas on trends from the attendees:

a. RFID got a mention as an emerging trend (CSIRO are looking at RFID and I am a member of their RFID Reading group.

b. HOME NETWORKS AND CONVERGENCE OF HAND-HELD DEVICES (mobile phone/camera). DCITA had just announced change to broadcasting policy, which might need some more stats to support it.

c. PODCASTING was something I mentioned as an emerging trend, blurring the lines between broadcasting and publishing and that the ACS is considering what policy it might recommend to DCTIA.

d. Also I had a grumble about how long ABS takes too produce some stats: by the time we have the stats on a technology trend, the trend may be over. This was supported by AIIA. There was a discussion of the usefulness of commercial surveys: quicker but less accurate. ABS working with other agencies to make stats they collect more widely available.

4. RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN STATISTICS: ABS reported on a number of new ICT related statistics reports. Details of these are online:

a. FARM USE OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY 2004-05: Computer and internet usage showed only 1% growth from the previous year.

b. HOUSEHOLD USE OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY 2004-05: 67% of Australian households had access to a computer at home and 56% had home Internet access. 28% had broadband Internet access and 69% had dial-up access. 31% of Australian adults ordered goods or services via the Internet. Travel, accommodation and tickets of were most popular.

There was some discussion at the meeting as to how much detail could be asked without overburdening the people surveyed. IT Statistics are not a priority for the Census and will not be out for about a year. The Census will include an online collection option and if this is accepted by users may make statistics available quicker.

c. ICT SATELLITE ACCOUNT, AUSTRALIA 2002-03: This is the first official satellite account on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Australia. It measures the direct contribution of ICT to the Australian economy in 2002-03 -- in particular, the contribution of ICT to gross domestic product (GDP).

d. ACCC DIVISION 12A BROADBAND MONITORING AND REPORTING DETERMINATION: ACCC looking at collecting takeup of broadband, type, download and upload speeds, location (metro/non-metro). Data would only be collected from large carriers, not little ISPs. This reduces the burden for the industry in collecting data for ACCC. It is difficult to collect geographic data at a finer level (what Postcode the user is). Some data collection is voluntary and there is difficulty in getting emerging areas covered, such as wireless.

e. REVIEW OF INTERNET ACTIVITY STATISTICS: Next collection expected for September 2006. There will be a gap in the statistics between March 2005 and September 2006. Considering a reduced collection from small IPSs to reduce the burden on them.

f. INTEGRATED BUSINESS CHARACTERISTICS STRATEGY (IBCS): This will combine the Business use of IT and Innovation surveys. Will support microdata analysis and combine ABS data with ATO data via the data warehose. This sounded like very clever stuff, most of which I didn't understand. ;-)

All I could find about this on the ABS web site was one paragraph. I suggested ABS to put the details on their web site and send us the address, which they agreed to do.


a. ICT SATELLITE ACCOUNT: The headline figure was that ICT added 4.9% to the Gross value (this is more than tourism). Other ICT statistics were: 4.6% of GDP, 13.8% of total investment and 3.5% of household consumption (with 67% of this being phone bills). But it is hard to compare these internationally as ABS is the first to produce such national statistics (OECD may look at doing it). Overall the stats didn't tell us anything the we didn't already know, but do it in a rigorous manner. ACS put out a press release about it.

b. MEASUREMENT OF SOFTWARE IN ABS ECONOMIC STATISTICS: Provided some complicated diagrams about import and exports of packaged software. ABS is trying to work out how software sales work. But the models they use for physical goods (such as wholesalers) don't really apply to software. Free open source software is an extreme case, but when you buy Ms Word you don't own it, just have a license. I suggested ABS look at research papers on how the software industry works.

With a Google Schollar search I found some likely papers. Some of these are from the ACS's own research journal. May also be worth looking at the film and publishing industries for ideas on how to measure such intangible goods or services.


a. ANZSIC 2006 CHANGES TO ICT INDUSTRIES: The codes used to classify businesses (ANZSIC) have been changed. There are finer catagorisations for ICT industry, such as for Internet, wired and wirless communcations and web design. ABS is working out how compare statistics using the old and new codes. ABS will release a discussion paper on what they propose to do with the details (such as if copying CDs counts as ICT or not).


7. METHODOLOGICAL AND TECHNICAL ISSUES RELATING TO SAMPLE DESIGN: Overview of issues of sample size an the like. Shows that ABS knows how to do statistics (which is what you would expect).


9. NEXT MEETING: In six months time. Meeting closed at 2:44pm.

There was some discussion as to the frequency of meetings. I suggested more frequent shorter meetings with online discussion between meetings. But most attendees didn't want this as they are from interstate and don't seem to be convinced online working is a good idea.

PS: After the meeting I discovered ABS have quite a good library (available to the public) on the ground floor of their building. This obviously specializes in statistics related materials, but had an okay IT collection.

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