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Driving the Economy through Data Science

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Driving the Economy through Data Science


Thursday, October 12, 2017 10:32 AM / NBS

Remarks By Dr.
Yemi Kale, Statistician-General of the Federation / Chief Executive Officer
National Bureau of Statistics Delivered at the
1st National Summit on
Big Data Economy / 2nd Data Science Bootcamp Organised by Data Science Nigeria


Introduction

I
am honored to join you here today at the 1st National Summit on Big Data
Economy and the 2nd Data Science Bootcamp being organized by Data Science
Nigeria. I consider this event, its organization and it’s objectives highly
commendable, especially as it aims to address a pressing challenge in our
society today, which is preparing today’s youth for the workforce of tomorrow,
in particular, by building up the skills gap among young professionals and
students in the emerging field of data science, and specifically in machine
learning, programming and data analytics.
 

Undoubtedly,
one of the most engaging and increasingly important areas of discussion since
the dawn of the 21st century has been on statistics and getting data right.
Today we talk of open data, big data, and the right data. We hear debates about
whether African data is poor or whether there is a statistical tragedy or
renaissance in Africa. Attention to the quality of data has increased globally.
Even in more developed countries like the UK, Canada and the USA, there are
questions being raised about the quality of data, errors in data, wrong use of
data and polarisation of data.
 

All
around us, we observe the quantum leap in the type, size and scale of data that
is being driven by rapid advances in the world of computing. Vast amounts of
data are being generated every second of the day, across the world in various
forms and across various sectors, what we call ‘Big Data’. (The term simply
represents the increasing amount and the varied types of data that is now being
collected.)
 

We
often define or describe data as a collection of facts that has been translated
into a form that provides information. When we hear data we often think of
numbers and figures. However, data can be in the form of numbers, images,
words, figures, facts or ideas. It is thought to be the lowest unit of
information from which other measurements and analysis can be done. In other
words, data (whether ordinary or what we call big data) is simply another word
for information.
 

The
thing that differentiates Big Data from the “regular data” we were analyzing
before is that the tools we use to collect, store and analyze it have had to
change to accommodate the increase in size and complexity. With the latest
tools on the market, we no longer have to rely on sampling. Instead, we can
process datasets in their entirety and gain a far more complete picture of the
world around us.
 

However,
data in itself cannot be understood and to get information from the data one
must interpret it into meaningful information. Accordingly, the ‘bigger’ the
data, the more complex and the more difficult it becomes to analyze it to get
that much needed information we require to progress. All that data needs,
however, is to be processed and interpreted by someone before it can be used
for insights.
 

No
matter what kind of data you’re talking about, that someone is usually a data
scientist. Data scientists are arguably now one of the most sought-after
positions. A former executive at Google even went so far as to call it the
“sexiest job of the 21st century”. So, congratulations to all of us in this
room. We have arguably the sexiest job of the 21st century
 

With
the vast amount of data being produced daily and its importance in providing
information and given the importance of information in taking decisions for
progress, whether as a business or as an economy or country, or as individual
in our daily lives or as entrepreneurs the question that faces us in Nigeria
today, therefore, becomes:
How can we take such data and convert it into
actionable knowledge to move our lives, businesses and economy forward?
 

In
my remarks today, I examine very briefly, this concept of big data economy and
specifically, how the field of data science can contribute towards enhanced and
meaningful information for greater business development, structural
transformation and economic diversification.
 

But
let me start with some comments on the importance of and growing demand for
data.
 

The
importance of data
The
growing importance of data in the global environment is indisputable. Data is
making an impact on every sector across every industry on a global scale.
Whichever industry you work in, or whatever your interests, you will almost
certainly have come across a story about how “data” is changing the face of our
world.
 

It
might be helping to cure a disease, boost a company’s revenue, make a building
more efficient or be responsible for those often irritating but targeted
advertisements you keep seeing on your ‘smart TVs’ or on your phones as text
messages or in those free apps we use on a daily basis. It has therefore played
and is playing a major role in shaping almost every aspect of human life, from
administration to astronomy, biology to business, housing to health,
engineering to environment, commerce to community, marketing to management,
infrastructure to industry, and policy to politics.
 

In
the olden days, the kings and other rulers used statistics based on population
census, primarily to procure food for the people and prepare the army for
security.
 

Censuses
have been used by governments across the world ever since for various purposes,
including planning for socio-economic development: how many hospitals, schools,
teachers, new roads etc are needed over the next 10 years? How many policemen
or women will be required to safeguard a community? How many graduates and
technical persons will join the labour force and how many jobs need to be
produced for them in the next 20 years? Arriving at the answers to all of these
questions, and many more require that we get our data right.
 

The
value of data is becoming more and more apparent as we continue to move towards
an information-driven economy where data has become the new currency. In oil
producing countries like Nigeria, some say data is the new oil.
 

The
volume of data and information which businesses now process on a daily basis is
on an unfathomable scale. The advent of connected devices, smart
infrastructure, complex networks and the constant availability of digital
services mean businesses are sitting on a wealth of data and consequently
information.
 

Have
you wondered how come Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, etc.
offer applications and services free of charge but at the same time these
companies are worth billions? Are they being foolish? Are we being smart using
such important applications for free? Data is the reason Amazon knows which
book you like to read before you do or why Apple”s Itunes can recommend
music and videos to you before you ask.
 

All
you do is switch your phone on and Itunes, unsolicited, is making
recommendations to you what they believe you may like. Those of you that use
Netflix will open your account and there is a line showing movies you may be
interested in watching based on what you may have watched previously. Those of
us that have lived in more advanced countries will recall that based on your
purchases in stores, you get loyalty vouchers to purchase items free or at a
discount based on your history of purchases.
 

A
rapidly growing universal truth in international business today is that all
roads lead to data. In an increasingly complex and connected world, the ability
of an organization to collect, manage and analyze huge amounts of data
effectively separates the winners from the runners-up or even losers.
 

A
recent report from Capgemini which surveyed over 1000 businesses revealed that
65 percent of respondents indicated that their organizations are at risk of
becoming uncompetitive due to the highly competitive data landscape.
 

36
percent said that, due to the strategic importance of big data, they have had
to circumvent IT teams to carry out the necessary data analytics required to
gain business insights.
 

64
percent indicated that big data is changing traditional business boundaries and
enabling new providers to move into their industry.
 

54
percent reported that their big data investments over the next three years will
outstrip past investments.
 

43
percent have already or are in the process of reorganizing in order to exploit
new big data opportunities.
 

Data
(and statistics) are therefore vital as they provide us with clear, objective,
numerical evidence on all aspects of our lives and the state of our businesses
or country, including the growth and characteristics of our population,
economic performance, levels of health and wellbeing and the condition of our
surrounding environment.
 

Data
aids the decision-making process by enabling us to establish numerical
benchmarks, monitor and evaluate the progress of policies or programmes,
ensuring that our policy interventions are well designed, meeting initial aims
and identifying any areas which require improvement. Accordingly, the
significance of statistical information for making evidenced-based decisions
that guide the implementation of new policy, monitoring of existing policy and
evaluation of the effectiveness of policy decisions can therefore not be
over-emphasized.
 

Without
these, we cannot make well-informed decisions that will catalyse our
socio-economic development and secure the lives of future generations. It is
when we are able to collate, understand and interpret data correctly, as well
as identify key areas in our society or our economy that require change, that
the policy prescriptions and direction of our governments and businesses are
more likely to respond to the real needs of our communities.
 

I
am of the opinion that if we do the right things at the right time and for the
right reasons, Nigeria can achieve its well-recognized potential as a great
economy and country. Our inability to do what was right in the past for the
right reasons and at the right time is one of the reasons we have the
challenges we have today as a country and getting our data and data analysis
right is one of such right things we must do.
 

The
growing demand for data
Let
us digress slightly and consider for example, the arena of data gathering in
Nigeria. The Nigerian Statistical System has a long evolutionary history. Many
of us remember the highly unorthodox and disorganized statistical system during
the days of the FOS where you will see stacks and stacks of files with papers
supposedly containing some form of data in them.
 

Until
recently we tolerated and came to accept a statistical system that was less
than optimal, weak, uncoordinated and largely ineffectual in meeting the needs
of policymakers, business investors and citizens who needed accurate, reliable
and timely data on key socio-economic indicators to make informed decisions.
 

At
some point, policy makers and other data users ignored official data and made
up their own irrespective of the fact that it was largely “guesstimates”. This
is however gradually changing and in recent times the demand and supply of
quality data has increased considerably. Of course, there is still a lot of
work to do to develop the statistical system so that it meets that requirement
of providing useable and valuable information from complex analysis of vast
amount of data.
 

We
are even still largely at the level of producing and analyzing what I described
as ordinary data although we have a National Strategy for the Development of
Statistics which includes handling big data.
 

Nevertheless,
there is undeniably, an increasing recognition of the importance of statistics
in Nigeria. This data summit and boot camp for example will probably not have
even been considered at all a few years ago. The growing demand for data driven
information and decision making has led to an emerging resurgence in the supply
of data and statistical information in Nigeria.
 

There
are two factors driving the demand for data in Nigeria:
exogenous factors
and
endogenous factors.  

The
exogenous factors, which are arguably more dominant, typically involve
“external demand” as dictated by conditions occurring outside the country. The
drive for data driven decisions in more advanced countries coupled with the
increase in international investors seeking investment havens with attention
turning to emerging markets, with Nigeria being one of the preferred
destination.
 

On
the domestic front, or
endogenous factors, data demand is being fuelled
by growing insistence on accountability and good governance by citizens, as
well as the desire by governments at all levels to demonstrate progress and
democratic dividends in various sectors. The current economic challenges facing
the country has further amplified the demand for accurate, reliable and timely
data on virtually all sectors of the Nigerian economy.
 

Like
never before, we are all living witnesses to the transformational role that
increased data availability and quality national statistics have played, and
continues to play, in our national life. We see it in how our government has
stepped up the use of data in planning, implementing and targeting social
programmes even though a lot still needs to be done.
 

We
see it in how businesses track and rely on official and nonofficial statistics
to make critical investment decisions that ultimately impacts not only
government operations, but the welfare of ordinary citizens. We see it in how
ordinary Nigerians are able to better understand how they are affected by
policy and political decisions, appreciate the state of the economy around
them, and their own responsibilities as citizens.
 

We
see it in the number of requests by private organizations in Nigeria to
collaborate with the NBS to generate data or in their increasing private sector
investment data production and in producing more indicators to better inform
their clients or for internal decision making.
 

As
custodian of official statistics and coordinator of the National Statistical
System, the National Bureau of Statistics, despite continued challenges, has
redoubled its efforts towards ensuring high frequency and quality data is available
for policymakers, business investors and citizens alike.
 

In
this regard we have partnered and continue to partner with various private
sector outfits involved in data production and analytics. Today NBS is an
integral part of various government committees and decision-making initiatives
actively engaging in advocacy efforts to ensure that NBS data products are
relevant to informing economic policymaking where and when required.
 

The
critical role of using data to inform policymaking bears out clearly in our
recent economic experience. Today one of the first places potential investors
visit is the NBS to get a sense of what the data is saying.
 

Driving
the economy forward: role of data science
For
our lives as citizens to improve, for our businesses to progress and for
economy to be truly diversified and sustainable in the long run, we have to
cultivate stronger technological capabilities and deepen technical innovation.
Without a doubt, one of the most significant aspects of technological innovation
in the last century has been the advent of computing and one would not be
exaggerating in saying that our planet runs on computers these days.
 

Look
at this room and try and count the number of things that run on computing.
Check your pockets or your hands and see the number of things that depend on
computing. When you go home or back to your offices take a moment and admire
the way computing has taken over our entire lives. We have almost taken a lot
of these things for granted.
 

The
rate of advancement in computing power, from the bits and bytes to big data
analytics, particularly in recent decades has made it possible to retrieve data
from a variety of sources or formats, process them and present them in ways
that are more helpful for decision making. This is where the field of Data
Science comes in. I repeat the sexiest and most sought-after job in the 21st
century.
 

That
being said, as a discipline, there remains controversy among scholars and
practitioners over what exactly constitutes “Data Science”. Some consider it as
“an evolutionary step in interdisciplinary fields like business analysis
that incorporate computer science, modeling, statistics, analytics, and
mathematics”1.
Others see it as “a multidisciplinary blend of data
inference, algorithm development, and technology in order to solve analytically
complex problems”2.
That is how you know how important and esoteric
something is when there is disagreement about what it actually is.
 

Either
way, it is clear that data science brings concepts, tools and methods from
various fields, particularly computer sciences and statistics, to process vast
amounts of data into useful knowledge and information for decision-making.
 

Data,
in and of itself, is useless if it only exists in a form that is not readily
meaningful or useful for decision making. We still need to be able to pull
together the vast microdata being collected, generated and produced across the
economy into meaningful and actionable knowledge and information which can then
be used by:
 


1.      
Policymakers
for design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation e.g to provide population
related services, predict likely emergence of natural disasters or track
epidemics;

2.     
Businesses
to better determine consumer preferences and future demand, based on past
demand trends, or to target their advertisements and products;

3.     
Entrepreneurs
to identify new business opportunities, or future markets based on household
consumption profiles;

4.     
Students
to make decisions about future growth in job opportunities in various sectors
etc.
 

The
Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) like all other plans we have had in
our nation’s history talks about the need for economic diversification.
 

Can
data and data science help to make such economic diversification possible?
 

Yes,
it can as I showed earlier. By applying the tools and methods of data science
to various types of microdata, the outcome can be seen in better information,
higher productivity, greater efficiency, increased output and ultimately a
higher welfare level for society.
 

Let
us consider some sector focused applications and how the tools and methods of
data science can foster improved outcomes for the economy as a whole. The
sectors to be considered can be identified based on their job creation
potentials in Q3 2016. Four sectors were selected from among those that
recorded new job creations, while four sectors were selected from those that
recorded job losses.
 

Proshare Nigeria Pvt. Ltd.

We identified 8 sectors as follows:
Human and health services, agriculture, trade, arts, entertainment and
recreation, public administration, electricity, gas & steam, transport and
storage and financial intermediation (services).

 

Agriculture
The
usefulness of data in understanding soil types and which are best for growing
which crop or in predicting weather patterns and environmental events is a
prominent area of application of data science. But in our context, there are a
wider variety of other application areas. For example, relying on data
analytics for each stage of the value chain could help producers make informed
production decisions even before the first seeds are planted.
 

In
a practical sense, this would require combining weather information with data
on seed/soil properties, transportation/logistic options, business conditions
and household purchasing power analysis. The availability and use of such data
can enable the modern agricultural entrepreneur (or groups of producers) to
guard against both risks from nature as well as business/market risks,
essentially synchronizing final demand with planting decisions from the start,
which contributes to greater efficiency, less wastage, higher output and
economic growth.
 

Health and human services
The use of big data in
modeling disease spread, real time identification of emergencies such as
epidemics is already prevalent, following the trail of the Google’s flu
tracking (GFT) program a few years ago. Using algorithms developed for internet
searches within the geographical area of concern, and greater precision,
epidemic outbreaks can be more rapidly contained.
 

Other health or environmental
emergencies such as major accidents, earthquakes, floods etc can also be
detected through analysis of phone and internet data potentially saving lives
and property.
 

Trade and commerce
The tools of data science are
quite widely applied especially in the retail and commercial trade sectors. For
instance, customers’ purchasing habits both offline and online are being used
not only to predict what their future preferences, but also when their
next purchases will be due, enabling businesses to target advertisements and
recommendations to such customers.
 

In addition, companies use customer
information in the design of new products. Such sophisticated use of customer
data improves the sales turnover for producers, enabling them to improve
output, sustain employment and contribute to economic growth.
 

Financial and insurance services
In a 2013 NBS/SMEDAN
collaborative survey, SMEs identified the major challenge they experience to be
access to finance, ahead of poor infrastructure, inconsistency in government
policies and multiple taxation. At the moment, financial institutions in Nigeria
are increasingly hesitant to extend credit to the real sector and
non-collateralized borrowers due to high risk and low credit worthiness.
 

With better use of customer data,
for example using past expenditures, income flows to analyze probabilities of risk
and default, finance and insurance institutions can better provide targeted
financial products to specific groups of clients, based on client profiles and
purchasing power, thus reducing their own risk exposure while supporting
economic activities and growth.
 

Transportation and urban planning
Data generated by vehicular traffic
on a daily basis can be utilized to (re)design transportation routes, and
improve urban and city planning. Traffic congestions can be very costly. A 2014
study estimated that traffic congestion cost the US economy about $124billion a
year.3 Congestion also leads to increased concentration of pollutants (such as
PM10) which are formed when gases emitted from vehicle exhaust react in the
atmosphere.
 

In 2016, the World Health Organisation
lists three Nigerian cities among the top 10 cities with highest concentration
of particulate matter (PM10) globally. Addressing traffic congestions in
Nigeria’s largest cities therefore contribute not only to better economic
outcomes but also health and environmental improvements.
  

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Entertainment

Nigeria’s entertainment industry has
seen significant growth over the past two decades, and at the moment, the major
growth factor points to the role of ICT as enabler of quicker time to market,
improving quality, and more importantly access to a wider (international)
market. In 2015, Nigeria would have ranked second on UNESCO’s list of top
feature film producing countries, behind India but ahead of the US, China,
Japan and the UK.
 

By leveraging on customer
preferences, viewing habits, purchasing patterns and other properties of
production, stakeholders can generate insights into future purchasing and
viewing patterns, including personalized entertainment options, to the benefit
of the industry.

 

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Public administration, security and
governance

Nigeria’s security challenges today
manifest in various forms including civil disturbances, low level crimes,
economic sabotage, financial crimes and terrorism. The prevalence of crime
raises the country risk profile, discourages foreign investment and threatens
the socio-economic and political stability of the country. By introducing
better identity management systems which are accessible to authorized law
enforcement agencies at all levels of government, the prevalence of crime can
be significantly curtailed.

 

Similarly, the administration of
public services such as taxes and other revenue collection, welfare transfers,
citizen information services and other public services becomes more efficient
and transparent since they are provided on the basis of actual rather than
presumed recipients.

 

Such population –related data would
also be useful for the design of targeted interventions e.g to the lowest
income earning households, families with sick children, members of specific
occupational groups, unemployment insurance etc. An improvement in public
service delivery and the quality of governance will positively impact on socio-
political stability and economic growth in the long run.

 

Electricity

In 2015, about 60% of the Nigerian
population had electricity access. According to the International Energy
Agency, Nigeria has the second highest number of people without electricity
access, next to India. One of the most critical constraints to economic growth
concerns the electricity sector. Across industry, commercial businesses and
households, the poor power supply situation severely limits production efficiency
while increasing costs for many producers.

Better energy sector planning can be
achieved with better use of already available data as a significant quantum of
data is already being generated and collected by electricity distribution
companies regarding household consumption patterns across the country, at least
for households with electricity meters. Such data, when matched with data on
socio-economic demographics and urban planning can be useful for investment
decision making by utility companies and government in the on-going efforts to
expand the electricity grid.

 

In addition to the economic
activities I have discussed earlier, it is also worth noting that the Federal
Government’s economic development agenda, the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan
(ERGP) prioritizes the role of data analytics in addressing certain sectoral
issues some of which include:
 


1.      
Solid minerals: Increase access to information by improving the
archiving of geo-data, harmonizing their format, and promoting their
dissemination 

2.     
Information and communications technology: Promote the use of
e-governance and digitize Federal Government data 

3.     
Power: Implement a data-driven approach in power sector
development planning 

4.     
Environmental protection: Establish a functional database on
drought and desertification
 

Key skills for data scientists

Nevertheless, it is important to also keep in mind the human
resource base required to achieve these desirable outcomes. As much as
technological advancement can drive economic growth, skilled workers are also
required to apply the science, operate these technologies and drive continued
innovation. In the field of data science, the skills required cover three major
areas:
 

1.      
Mathematics / statistical sciences

2.     
Technology/computer sciences

3.     
Applied fields (e.g communication, business, sports, engineering,
religion, development etc)

 

To become an effective data
scientist therefore, you need a solid foundation in computer science, modeling,
statistics, analytics and math. What sets data scientists part from traditional
job titles, therefore, is an understanding of economic and business processes
and an ability to communicate findings to business and IT leaders as well as
economic managers in a way that can influence how an organization, individual
or business approaches a challenge or exploits an advantage.

 

While the field of data science is
still emerging as a definitive field of practice, there are actions that can be
taken by key stakeholders in ensuring that Nigeria continues to build a
pipeline of talent with expertise in the above areas to prepare today’s youths
for tomorrow’s jobs. One of such actions is what we are doing here today.

 

The key stakeholders identified in
this regard include:

1.      
Government

2.     
Employers

3.     
Educational institutions and

4.     
Professional associations

 

Some recommended strategies towards
building the required human resource base include:

1.      
Strengthening educational curriculum from secondary level to
increase analytical content of educational programmes

2.     
Improving collaboration between institutions, employers and
professional associations to ensure that industry requirements and job
descriptions are matched with educational and training programmes of students
prior to joining the workforce

3.     
Increasing
investment in on-the-job training for local hires to build local capacity
rather than relying on foreign workers; and

4.     
Step
up demand and utilization of evidence based decision making at all levels of
public governance to ensure that the supply of data scientists is matched by
demand in both public and private sector.

 

Conclusion

I would like to conclude by noting
that Nigeria can become a developed nation only if everyone contributes to the
best of his or her ability and capacity. The task of government is to set a
strategic vision for the nation and to design policies, plans and programmes to
drive that vision. We all must then respond to that vision and to give that
vision flesh and bones and to advance ideas to translate the vision into
reality.

 

In many cases, however, we find that
in Nigeria, it is the general public and the private sector that even sets the
tone and dictates the direction. This is regrettably the case with dealing with
big data and data analytics in Nigeria and this is why I find these engagements
very useful. As Nigeria’s Statistician General, I believe Data Society Nigeria
is leading the way in this regard and should be commended for its efforts.

 

Accordingly, I am here not only to
speak to you but also to pick your brains and hopefully learn a few things from
the vast amount of knowledge we will all gain from the many experienced
speakers and interaction from the audience.

 

As
a nation, I think we face two overall choices: we can either drift passively
into the future, or we can plan actively and deliberately by providing and
using data and information that enables us to design policies plans and
programmes for development. As participants in this programme, you are setting
yourselves apart as building blocks upon which the emerging field of data
science in Nigeria will be solidly established.
 

It
is my hope and genuine expectation that the resources, knowledge and network of
relationships you have acquired over the past few months and in the course of
the remaining part of this summit will remain with you long after you have left
this place. I also invite you to engage with our data products on the NBS
website and to make it your playground.

I
urge you to also remember that the country is looking up to you to use your
skills and knowledge to lift up the millions who would have loved to be here,
but have not been as fortunate as you are.
 

I wish you all a fruitful and successful session.
 

Thank you all for listening.
 

Proshare Nigeria Pvt. Ltd.

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