Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Web Based Statistics for Terrorist Attacks and Disaster Management

Every few months I attend the Australian Bureau of Statistics ICT Reference Group for the Australian Computer Society. These are some notes from the 1 May 2007 meeting held at ABS House in Canberra (previous meeting was October 2006).

Represented included: Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA), Telstra, Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), Australian Computer Society (ACS), Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) , National ICT Australia, and the Queensland Government.

Some items:

* ICT Strategic issues -
second draft of ICT statistics strategic paper:

- Economic impact of ICT: gaps in information
- Social impact of ICT: adequacy of proposed framework and gaps in information
- Way ahead with IDP (Information Development Plan).

Essentially the strategy paper is to identify the need for the statistics. The Information Development Plan is a more detailed internal planning document for ABS on how and why to collect. Previously an IDP was not thought to be needed for ICT statistics, but now is.

The Australian Computer Society released the "2007 Australian ICT Trade Update" on 19 April 2007. This identified a $21 billion ICT trade deficit, which gives some impetus for action on ICT, including better statistics.

The point was made that states and territories, particularly, Queensland and Victoria, are putting a lot of effort into ICT industry development. Also the skills shortage was an issue. Better statistics are needed to identify the extent of the problem and where resources should go. I talked at the National YIT Conference held in Melbourne on "Making money from XML publishing", but that might not be enough to offset the $21 billion ICT trade deficit. ;-)

The ACS is addressing the skills shortage with its postgraduate training. Mmore statistics are needed on this to see what training may be needed.

There was a slightly philosophical discussion of the relationship between the statistics and the policy development process. "Evidence based" regulation was mentioned. This becomes political if the government doesn't like the statistics. ;-)

The social impact of ICT and how to measure it was discussed. About all can be said at present is that there is more to be done.

It was mentioned that ANU have an ARC linkage grant to research the Impact of the Mobile Phone on Work/Life Balance.

ABS asked about the benefits of broadband to the home. One is education. ACS's Computer Professional Education Program, provides one example of how the Internet can help with education at home. Environmental impacts are another issue raised (AIIA have been making a noise about this and I have proposed a Green IT Sig).

I commented on the interrelationship between industry and social issues. As an example, when visiting Canberra, Google staff commented that it would be difficult to put a Google computer Centre in Australia due to the lack of communications links to the rest of the world. As well as industry implications, this has social impacts for access to information.

One comment was that mobile phones are now powerful client machines. Actually mobile phopnes can also run server software. Nokia's labs claim to have ported the Apache web server and Python to the Nokia S60 phones.

The issue of non-government collections of statistics could be made available via the ABS's proposed information portal. ABS are intending to allow this, but are still working out the details.

The issue of the unmet demand for ICT was raised.

I suggested the ABS ICT Strategic issues document was good enough to be put out as a draft for public comment, rather than waiting for further revisions. This seemed to have general support.

* Emerging issues and Technologies:

- Future of Broadband statistics with expected high level of Broadband take-up in the not too distant future.
Treatment of mobile broadband.
- VoIP: do users want the ABS to collect this in the IAS, and what information do they need?

This item was not covered, due to lack of time. ABS would welcome input. One issue is where to get the data: from end users, or from companies providing the services. Consumers may not understand questions about VoIP.

* ABS Internet Activity Survey:

Issues of compatibility of Australian statistics with international ones (OECD). NZ separates "cellular technology" from fixed and mobile broadband. Issues of dis-aggregation of statistics below state level (ISPs may not have detailed data to supply).

* Opportunities for an ICT portal as part of the National Data Network:

The NDN is being created by a consortium of statistics collecting bodies lead by ABS. A pilot is currently in use. It is due for general release 1 July 2008. It is intended to make data, tools and services available, in a controlled manner.

The NDN will allow stats to be found and, with authorisation, used. A hub and spoke design is being used to allow centralization of the metadata and distribution of the data. The system uses open source software. This is probably be most advanced system of its kind in the world. AGLS metadata is used. Agencies which already provide public AGLS metadata on their web sites just need to provide the address. The system can provide limited ranges of data via a web service to particular registered users. A pilot for children and youth statistics (which is relevant to the issue of young people and ICT).

Will use the US Census Bureau "Data Ferrett" tool, but adapted to a distributed environment and "Shibboleth" (Macquarie University) access control. QUT's Creative Commons work will be used for some data access.

One application for the NDN is for emergency management, to identify the impact of a natural disaster or terrorist attack. I didn't mention it at the meeting, but it should be possible to use such statistics on a smart phone, where it is needed on site, or because the fixed infrastructure has been rendered in inoperative by the disaster or attack.

I asked if the metadata for the non-sensitive restricted data would be publicly available for web search engines to collect. ABS said it would. This would allow someone doing a web search to discover that some reliant data exists on the National Data Network. ABS is talking to the NLA and Arrow project about interfacing systems. The NLA's Arrow system automatically collected metadata on scientific papers from the ACS Digital Library and the same approach could be used for statistical collections.

* Census 2006 output: ABS plan: does it meet user requirements

Details to be circulated by ABS.

* Recent developments, upcoming releases and work underway in ICT statistics:

Interesting recent finding was that the number of ISP went down as smaller ones went out of business.

ABS is moving to provide more data free on its web site.

Other Work underway:

ICT Industry Survey 2006-07 development
Status of Integrated Business Characteristics Survey (IBCS) 2005-06

* Other Business and conclusion:


* Next meeting: October 2007

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