Interview: Khalifa Al Barwani

How is the NCSI coping with the challenge of bringing previously informal and fragmented data into a formal centralised system?

KHALIFA AL BARWANI: The challenge we are facing is continually updating information and finding the most cost-effective way to deliver the correct data points. We are now mainly focused on collecting administrative data, which we can disseminate in real time to companies and governments who need it. One key example project is the e-census which represents the movement towards “smart” statistics. The planned new statistics law will formalise the process and give the stakeholders power in the data collection process. Another key element of the statistics law will be to establish a data strategy, which will define ownership of information. This is very important, because we cannot fully utilise our system of e-governance without it.

We will also in the near future be working on establishing a new uniform address system. It has already been approved by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos and we are working with the municipalities to roll it out by 2020. From these key areas, we can build new systems to enhance our collection of specialised information – for example, geo-specific data which is vital to policy makers and investors. The goal is to build these systems so that all stakeholders will have accurate, real-time information available to them and as a result to enable investors to make more informed strategic economic decisions.

How do you measure the effectiveness of making statistical data available in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI)?

BARWANI: When investors come to Oman, they first need to have access to information, and they need to understand the real situation, before making any decisions. The new NCSI portal will give everyone access to the key economic information which they require. The information is free, but we have also established a call centre accessible to everyone, where people can call and ask for more information which may not be available in the online database. Here we see a lot of value in the investor having specific information available on each governorate. If an international investor wants to take advantage of developments in tourism, or logistics for example, they must have data and information available to them on demographics, labour and economics for every geographical area of Oman, not just Muscat, and not just generalised information.

To make a significant impact on attracting FDI, we must work hard to translate this information into knowledge – an aspect that is often missed. The next step is to take this very valuable geo-specific data, apply analysis and to present the opportunities within each governorate. In this way we can help to paint a picture for investors, and help align the FDI strategy with Oman Vision 2020.

What more must be done to transform the theory of “big data” into real economic results?

BARWANI: This is an area of focus for us. There is a team for big data created by UN Statistics Division, and we are leading the mobile team to utilise big data in three important categories. The first is tourism, using a system whereby we track the movement of tourists around the country. Typically, when we get tourism statistics, we get only the number of how many tourists came to the country, but not where they went. Using mobile technology, we can now source a lot of this information. The second project covers mobility, and here again, we are using mobile technology to analyse people’s movement around the cities during different times of day. The last project involves encouraging the population to use this data to analyse the demographics of Oman, in order to better inform strategic policymaking by Omanis.