Ptolomey’s Takeaways: Digital economy – official national UK statistics look to the future

by | Aug 25, 2014 | 0 comments

 by Joanna Ptolomey

I have had a busy morning today. Firstly I purchased various music concert tickets for the coming months. Hurrah I do have a social life. I then had to track down and buy tennis clothes for my youngest daughter who is growing faster than I can clothe her at the moment. I also compared the price of handheld steam cleaners from various retailers – something I never thought I would be interested in. Domestic decisions aside I had two Skype chats for projects I am working on, and completed and sent a project brief to a client.  I never left my office desk for a moment.

My morning activities are nothing unusual. The way we live and work has changed considerably over the last 20 years. The business world, whether national retailer or manufacturer, or a single contractor like me has changed, has had an impact on the economy of a country. Measuring this digital economy (ecommerce) is important for all kinds of economic, political and social reasons.

But here in the UK questions are now being asked about the current state of official national statistics processes and data releases in regard to ecommerce. Are the processes outdated and not sensitive enough to capture all the real data accurately?

On the 7th August 2014 the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) launched #DigitalDay with three releases of their digital economy statistics. Firstly the 2014 Internet Access Households and Individuals statistics – essentially Internet use in relation to ecommerce and basically the habits of the UK online. Secondly, monitoring and measuring e-commerce in the UK and good for a quick and easy overview of what the digital economy looks like. Thirdly, national account articles with information on definitions, explanations and how to measure ecommerce and why it is important.

So far, so good. However the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) thinks that the current state of e-commerce statistics is somewhat lacking in accuracy in the UK. A 2013 report notes that currently the digital economy is not best served by the conventional definitions and datasets that have been in use for many years. The current SIC (standard industrial classification) based definitions are too broad and miss out on large numbers of businesses. This is especially so they believe in sectors such as software, architecture, engineering, scientific and technical to name a few.

The ONS themselves have launched a consultation to coincide with their recent e-commerce release and closes on the 30th October 2014. The questions in general come down to – how best to move forward in capturing appropriate statistics in the future for the measuring of the digital economy? It is definitely a timely consultation and we must move with the changes to encompass just what do we mean by e-commerce and how best to measure.

It is worth bearing in mind that the NIESR report is funded by Google, and one of the main recommendations of the report is to make better use of big data. I feel a wee bit of the tail wagging the dog here, but agree that there is a need to review the current measurement of digital commerce. There is also a role for big data in national statistics – but that is a definitely a post for another day.


atg_JPphotoJoanna Ptolomey is a freelance information specialist who specializes in how people/organisation/communities find, use, share and manage information in health.  In particular, developing technology platforms, via, as well as facilitating and supporting the journey of change, developing supporting educational material.


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