TBY talks to HE Dr. Khalifa bin Abdullah Al Barwani, CEO of the National Center for Statistics and Information (NCSI), on Oman compared to the broader GCC, smart applications, and big data.

HE Dr. Khalifa bin Abdullah Al Barwani
HE Dr. Khalifa bin Abdullah Al Barwani received his BSc in Social Work in Egypt in 1989, before going on to to attain a Diploma in Demography in 1995. After this, he attended the University of Liverpool to study his MA in Population Studies in 2002 and then acquired his PhD in the same subject in 2008. He is currently the CEO of the NCSI and has taken part in many scientific research projects and studies, including Population Challenges in the Sultanate of Oman in 2003 and the Relationship between Population and Development in 2009.

How does Oman's statistics center compare to the rest of the GCC?

We created our own statistics center here in Oman, and we are following the same standards as the GCC, which follow international standards. We are running the same program as the GCC, and we are moving together. We believe that statistics need to be up to these standards so that we avoid gaps in information given to policy makers.

How is NCSI using smart applications to provide social and economic indicators, and what is the importance of the census in Oman?

One of our policies is that people have the right to information, and from this view we try to open channels for people to gain access to information. One of those channels is our website, and we are now improving our portal, both in Arabic and English. We have mobile applications and have created three applications. NCSI Oman gives social economic indicators, NCSI GEO is more detailed and geographic, and Tour Oman is focused on tourism. This is more of a service we provide than purely information. We also maintain a presence on social media. We plan to conduct an e-census in 2020 to replace the traditional census. We believe that innovation is essential.

How is NCSI able to reach a wider audience in Oman, and what mediums are being utilized?

We have tried to move into many channels because every channel has its own audience. Most young people go toward social media, and our people respond directly to them. We have a quick response rate. At least twice a week in Oman, you can find information in most Arabic and English newspapers, and we have updates on television. With our new portal we are reaching a lot of young people, and we signed an MoU with Qaboos University to see how we can use their research people and train their students here. We can be sure that this knowledge is being transferred from generation to generation. Now, we are signing many MoUs, nationally and internationally, to encourage exchange of experience. The UN has announced a call for big data, and Oman is leading a mobile task team.

What is your coordination with other Oman government agencies and the private sector?

NCSI, according to the royal decree, coordinates with all other government agencies. The data flows from them to us, and we send it back for their use. NCSI is responsible for all the economic and social information. Dissemination of information is helping to improve the level of transparency in the government. People have a right to access information and measure the progress of our country. We want to be sure there is communication happening and a link between the government and the private sector. One of our board members is from the private sector.

What has been the effect of the drop in oil prices?

According to our information, 2015 has already been a big challenge. Our economy is heavily dependent on oil and gas prices. We assist in decision-making, but we are not making the decisions. Our information helps decision-makers see other scenarios.

What trends are occurring this year, and what are your expectations for the year ahead?

According to last year's GDP, up to September, there was growth around 5%. It is still early to forecast what will change. In March 2015, Oman was one of three countries chosen to share our vision on big data; along with the Netherlands and Italy. This was our last statistic commission, and one that shows that Oman has an important place in the world. We are working to establish Oman as a national center to provide all data and information, and we are creating a smart government with a national data warehouse. Information is power, and we can see where the opportunities lie. We are on the right track, yet there are still many things to do in the future.