[X]

Data revolution: The gold rush of the information age

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Statistics has entered almost every aspect of human endeavour from sport to weather, health, population growth rate, agriculture, housing, schooling, unemployment and the stock market.

At the centre of statistics lies data. This entails designing ways to collect, summarise, visualise, present and draw inferences from data. This data is then used for better planning, more efficient delivery of services and increased productivity.

Contact Person

Sibusisiwe Makhanya

+27(0) 841 4942

smakhanya@csir.co.za

Statistics has entered almost every aspect of human endeavour from sport to weather, health, population growth rate, agriculture, housing, schooling, unemployment and the stock market.

At the centre of statistics lies data. This entails designing ways to collect, summarise, visualise, present and draw inferences from data. This data is then used for better planning, more efficient delivery of services and increased productivity.

All these concepts were unpacked at the World Statistics Day open day recently hosted by the CSIR and jointly organised with the South African Statistical Association, the Institute of Certificated and Chartered Statisticians of South Africa, the Operations Research Society of South Africa, the Department of Science and Technology-National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence for Mathematics and Statistical Sciences and the Statistical Analysis System.

Speaking at the event, Dr Daniel Visser, CSIR Research and Development Strategy Manager, said statistics is an extremely important field because it is used every single day, whether it is census data, crime statistics or financial statistics.

The event was attended by representatives from industry, academia and the public sector.

“From a government point of view, we rely on statistics and data to plan better for the country,” says Daniel. He warned that the advent of concepts such as big data, data analytics and artificial intelligence will have an enormous impact in the context of a rapidly evolving technological world and on the field of statistics.

“We are gaining the ability to work with extremely huge data sets now, make sense of them and define trends out of these data sets, effectively helping us to make decisions faster and sometimes autonomously,” he says.

Prof Pravesh Debba, CSIR’s manager of spatial planning and systems competence area, spoke about the future of statistics. “The flood of data is now accompanied by a flood of questions, perhaps thousands of them, many of which are complex. This flood of data led to a big data revolution. Interest in the discipline of statistics and the analysis of data is booming. It is estimated that 90% of the world’s data have been created in the last two years.”

Pravesh added that initiatives such as the National Development Plan, Data Revolution, the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Sustainable Development Goals are creating the need for people with skills in handling and analysing data. This would create further demand for such people in both industry and government departments.

“The role of higher education in producing data analytics skills needed for the market is vital and this would also lead to the development of new statistics curricula at universities,” says Pravesh.

Statisticians in Pravesh’s group use statistical methods to understand how phenomena such as predicting election results, urban growth and electricity demand forecasting could influence policies and lead to interventions going forward.

Kelly Lu, from Statistical Analysis System, touched on the importance of data and analytics as key drivers to success outside of the business world. Since analytics had an impact in transforming the way people conduct their business, it has the potential to make a positive impact on the environment and people’s lives in the same way.

Dr Christine Khoza gave a status update on the planning for the South African Census 2021, emphasising the objectives and new strategies for data collection and highlighted lessons learnt from previous censuses.

CSIR senior researcher Nontembeko Dudeni-Tlhone spoke about the use of census data as key building blocks in segmenting households into clusters of homogeneous groups that are expected to behave in a similar way at the neighbourhood level. This provides a framework for predictive modelling at the neighbourhood scale, which has the potential to enhance ongoing long-term planning efforts and decisions.

Quintin van Heerden, a CSIR senior researcher gave an overview of the different uses of census data within the urban growth modelling and simulation endeavours of the CSIR.

Dr Mathetha Mokonyama, CSIR’s manager for transport systems and operations competence area made a presentation on how large-scale household surveys, including census, are critical for this specific type of analysis; and further makes a case for improved integration of survey instruments in order to optimally address socioeconomic challenges that are unique to South Africa.

CSIR senior researcher in the spatial planning and systems area, Dr Sibusisiwe Makhanya, demonstrated how census data were used in mapping particulate matter concentrations and in calculating indicator 11.6.2 of Sustainable Development Goal 11.

Related Information