Developing data analyst skills: how the WCO contributes to expanding this specialized area of work

20 February 2017
By Tsendsuren Davaa, Ph.D., Professional Associate, Compliance and Facilitation Directorate, WCO

As the WCO is dedicating 2017 to encouraging the use of data analysis for more effective border management, I would like to share my own personal experience in this field, and explain how I was able to develop my data analysis skills thanks to the WCO’s support.

Data analysis is not merely one of the core activities of any modern Customs administration; today it is a basic tool for any organization, requiring the adoption of a systematic approach to the collection and processing of data, as well as specialized and qualified personnel.

I started my career at Mongolian Customs some 20 years ago as a Customs examination officer before being transferred to headquarters where I have been involved in policy making for the last decade.

My capacity to grow and continually evolve in my career is largely due to the fact that I took advantage of the training opportunities offered by the WCO. I could, therefore, be considered a “product” of the capacity building programme which the WCO developed for its Member Customs administrations.

Over the years I have attended various WCO workshops and seminars, including a risk assessment workshop which was held in Qingdao, China in 2009. It was actually the risk assessment workshop which led to me taking my first steps in risk analysis. The expert from the WCO Secretariat, who led the workshop, became my first risk management teacher and has continued guiding and encouraging me to develop my knowledge and skills.

After the workshop, I decided to apply for a place on the Japan-WCO Human Resource Development Programme – a scholarship programme which provides grants to promising young Customs managers from developing countries, enabling them to undertake master’s level studies in Japan. I chose to study for a master’s degree in public finance at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.

The curriculum enabled me to enhance my analytical skills, especially my ability to use social-economy and statistics methods. Besides academic lectures, the degree programme also included the study of best practices, and visits to Japan Customs to experience real-time field operations. After completing my master’s degree, I felt that I had strengthened my skills as a data analyst.

On my return to Mongolia Customs, I was promoted to the post of Deputy Director of the Customs Control and Risk Management Department. As such, I participated in a WCO accreditation workshop on the topic of risk management, which was organized in Hong Kong, China in 2012. The accreditation process involved a two-step approach:

  • Participants have to attend a five-day workshop, mixing theory and practice, during which they are assessed;
  • Participants deemed to have potential, then take part in a capacity building mission with an expert, during which their training skills are evaluated.

I passed the first step successfully, and hope to complete the accreditation process soon and become part of the WCO’s pool of experts on risk management for the Asia/Pacific region.

I actually had a chance to practice my training skills by participating as a facilitator in five workshops. Three of them were organized in 2013 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) at its Border Management Staff College in Dushanbe, Tajikistan: the “Border Management Senior Officer Training Workshop;” which is held twice a year; and the “Women in Border Security and Management – Leaders of Today and Tomorrow Workshop.” The other two took place in 2016: the “Risk Assessment and Selectivity with Advance Cargo Information Workshop” in Japan; and the “Risk-Based Passenger Selectivity Workshop” in Mongolia.

I also try to share my knowledge by writing articles and reports for international and Mongolian publications, such as the World Customs Journal and the Scientific Journal of Mongolia. To date, 27 of my articles have been published on topics such as Customs risk management, comparative studies, Customs valuation, trade facilitation, and border management.

One of the major changes in my life came in November 2015, after I had completed a doctoral degree in business administration from the Mongolian National University. My dissertation was titled “Ways to mitigating Customs control risk.” After graduating, I had the opportunity to lecture to students studying for their master’s and doctoral degrees at the very same university. Analysing data, and teaching students and colleagues how to do it, is my favourite activity.

Last year, I was selected to participate in the Career Development Programme, an initiative launched in 2009 by the WCO, in cooperation with Japan Customs, which provided me with an opportunity to work at the WCO Secretariat for 10 months. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. Never would I have imagined, when I first joined Mongolian Customs, that one day I would be working at the WCO Secretariat.

The WCO Secretariat is a sort of knowledge bank, and, since my arrival, I have been learning a lot from my tutors and colleagues. Each programme participant has to produce a study paper on a topic of his/her choice. My study report will look into the possibilities of how to apply a comprehensive and systematic risk differentiation model to Customs control.

For this purpose, I am analysing approximately three million records, which relate to import clearances over the last three years, as well as the export records of six of Mongolia’s major commercial partners. The objective is to undertake a mirror analysis of the data, which involves using the Harmonized System (HS) Code to compare the imports (or exports) of a country with the exports (or imports) reported to the country by its trading partners, in order to detect gaps in terms of quantities, weight or value that may reveal fraudulent trade flows or practices.

In undertaking my study, I am also using methodologies such as gap analysis (comparing actual performance with potential or desired performance), econometric analysis (applying statistical techniques to analyse economic data), clustering (grouping a set of objects in such a way that the objects in the same group are more similar to each other than those in other groups), and quantitative analysis (using mathematical and statistical methods to study behaviour and predict outcomes). My calculations are made using Microsoft Excel and E-views software.

Over the years, many Customs officers like me have obtained academic and professional knowledge on Customs matters, thanks to the WCO’s support and assistance. I hope my story will inspire others and motivate them to take advantage of the many opportunities offered by the WCO to advance their careers to the benefit of their administrations, including sharing their work and practices with the entire Customs community.

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