101. Ms Jirawan Boonperm presented the document APCAS/02/9, "Image Scanning Technology in the Processing of Agricultural Survey and Census Data". She told the Commission that an increasing demand for more timely release of statistical data had made it necessary for statistical organizations to improve their statistical data production capacity. Since data capture was the most time-consuming stage of census data processing, it had been the focus of efforts to shorten the process.
102. The Commission learned that image scanning technology was a system used to capture data directly from a completed questionnaire or fax/internet message quickly with a minimum amount of human intervention. It utilized a scanner and a software application that automatically read and evaluated data or figures recorded on forms and transformed them into ASCII data files that could then be used for further data processing.
103. The Commission learned that the system of processing census questionnaires using Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) had many advantages. First, it shortened data capture time and decreased the risk of manual error at the data entry stage. Second, fewer staff were required, compared with the number of personnel required for other data capture methods. This point was an important consideration when it was difficult to recruit qualified temporary staff to do manual data entry. Third, with the ICR system, the image files of the census did not need a large storage area. Fourth, the cost of data capture using ICR system was much less than that of the manual procedure. In addition, the system can be used for other surveys and censuses with minimum additional requirements for maintenance and development.
104. The Commission noted that some important issues needed to be considered when using ICR. Strict controls on the quality of the accomplished questionnaire forms should be exercised before they were submitted to the scanner. Poor quality forms would prolong the scanning, evaluation and verification time.
105. The Commission agreed that the ICR system was a promising option for census and large-scale survey data capture but considerable advanced planning was required for full utilization of the system. Also, extensive testing of the performance of the system must be made before the launch of the census, to be able to fully exploit its strengths and compensate for its weaknesses. It can be noted that countries in the region that had experiences on the use of ICR system found it to be more accurate than the manual system.
106. The Commission recommended that FAO initiate an in-depth review and assessment of the performance of ICR systems as tools to improve data capture in large-scale censuses and surveys. It noted that the United Nations Statistics Division had experience with advanced information technology hardware and software and requested that FAO consult with that division.