Com­merce ap­plies it­self to make use of sta­tis­tics

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Research Round - Up - Derek Parker

MATH­E­MAT­I­CAL and sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis is steadily mov­ing into the main­stream of busi­ness, ac­cord­ing to Ian Gor­don, di­rec­tor of the Univer­sity of Melbourne’s Sta­tis­ti­cal Con­sult­ing Cen­tre.

The cen­tre pro­vides sta­tis­ti­cal ser­vices to com­pa­nies and gov­ern­ments, as well as other parts of the univer­sity. It op­er­ates within the de­part­ment of math­e­mat­ics and sta­tis­tics and draws on univer­sity ex­per­tise from a range of fields.

‘‘ The Sta­tis­ti­cal Con­sult­ing Cen­tre is about find­ing quan­ti­ta­tive so­lu­tions to real- world prob­lems,’’ Gor­don says.

‘‘ There is an in­creas­ing de­sire, es­pe­cially in the private sec­tor, for solid, prov­able con­clu­sions from an in­de­pen­dent source.

‘‘ Go­ing with gut feel just doesn’t cut it any more.

‘‘ At the same time, in the past few years there has been a greater will­ing­ness of maths peo­ple to get out into the mar­ket­place and to show what they can do.’’

The cen­tre’s sin­gle largest area of work re­lates to epi­demi­ol­ogy, in­volv­ing the dis­tri­bu­tion of ill­nesses in pop­u­la­tions.

‘‘ That type of knowl­edge is ex­tremely im­por­tant to phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies in re­search ob­jec­tives and test de­sign, for ex­am­ple, and in sub­mis­sions to gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tors,’’ Gor­don says.

‘‘ The next largest cat­e­gory is man­age­ment, where we might ap­ply sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis to es­tab­lish how a com­pany is re­ally per­form­ing. That in­for­ma­tion is es­sen­tial for ef­fec­tive strate­gic man­age­ment.

‘‘ But the growth area, as I see it, is the ap­pli­ca­tion of sta­tis­ti­cal meth­ods to en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, such as the im­pact of var­i­ous fac­tors on the ecol­ogy of an area.’’

One as­pect of the cen­tre’s work is the de­sign of sur­veys and the anal­y­sis of re­sults. Other projects deal with cus­tomer and mar­ket anal­y­sis, but the cen­tre’s fo­cus is al­ways on the sta­tis­ti­cal per­spec­tive.

Gor­don also points to spe­cific projects such as the work of Ray Wat­son to de­velop a de­tailed rat­ing sys­tem for the qual­ity of beef. The sys­tem, de­signed with Meat Stan­dards Aus­tralia, is be­ing used ex­ten­sively and is still be­ing im­proved.

In an­other project, Ken Sharpe helped de­sign meth­ods for im­proved test­ing for il­licit drugs in sports: some of this work was put to use in the Syd­ney Olympics.

Gor­don says one chal­lenge is putting sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis into lan­guage that is use­ful to clients.

‘‘ We try to make our an­a­lyt­i­cal meth­ods trans­par­ent, avoid­ing the spe­cialised lan­guage of maths and speak­ing in terms our clients un­der­stand,’’ he says.

‘‘ A lot of our clients come to us by re­fer­ral and there is a lot of re­peat work, so I sup­pose that means we are pro­vid­ing them with what they need.’’

A prob­lem for the cen­tre has been re­cruit­ing peo­ple with the right skills be­cause it can’t com­pete with the salaries of­fered by large com­pa­nies.

‘‘ It’s a prob­lem, yes, but we have our own sell­ing points,’’ Gor­don says.

‘‘ What a lot of peo­ple who work at this level re­ally want is a stim­u­lat­ing en­vi­ron­ment, flexible work con­di­tions and the op­por­tu­nity to ap­ply their re­search skills across a gamut of ar­eas. That’s what we can give them.’’

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