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Thoughts from The Dev TeamMay 18, 2016

Ruminations on the development process – Part 1


Why I meet our clients

As I write this I’m sitting at the airport waiting for a flight to Toronto. I’m on my way to visit clients. I will be there for one day and then travel on to New York for more meetings. It’s not unusual in our industry for company representatives, like sales people, or training consultants to go and see clients. But the head of software development? A little less usual.

For me and the other developers in our team, taking these trips is important. They give us the chance to meet our users on a regular basis. Insight into what our users do, and want to do is essential to the way we design and develop the product we give them. 

But working this way isn’t always the case. In many organizations there is one team that designs the product and decides how it should work. This team listens to sales, support teams and other sources, after which they come up with a plan. This plan is then translated into a product specification. Finally, the specs are handed over to the developers, who do their best to turn these specifications into a product.

With this many steps between the users and the developers it’s not surprising that IT products are often disconnected from the real issues experienced by the users.

So, why do IT projects seem to fail on delivering good products so often?


From the Bottom up

I think a very common problem is that IT projects are often treated in the same way as more industrial projects, with a top-down approach. A team of engineers or designers, with highly relevant knowledge, come up with a product plan. Then workers execute these plans to produce the product. In contrast, in the IT industry you’ll find that the process may be structured in the same way, but the distribution of knowledge and skills is not. Of course you need good management and project leaders, who help to organize the work. But for the most part they don’t have in-depth knowledge about software development. Naturally, the developers do. So in this case, the typical top-down approach doesn’t make so much sense. Unlike industrial projects, with IT projects the people who have the most relevant knowledge are at the bottom.


Design is difficult without context

One way of approaching the development process is to have a separate design team, who act as mediators between the users and the developers. In this case the role of the developer is to solely focus on executing the product specifications. I won’t say that this never works, but you have to have a really good design team that understands both the needs of the users and how to develop software. In my experience, this is very rare.


The devil is in the details

A product specification cannot possibly cover all the details that the developers need to consider. After all, a computer program is just a very detailed specification of what the program should do. In theory, if a specification contained all the details, it could be transformed into a computer program and you would not need any developers. Luckily for me, that’s not possible, yet.

All these small decisions, the ones that can’t be covered by the specification, are really important for the end result. If the developers understand how the product is going to be used, the solutions they develop are far better suited to the users’ needs.


If you’re still unsure of whether it really is necessary for us developers to meet our clients, look out for my post next month when I’ll be mentioning some examples of what happens when we don’t!

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Your Overview of Data AdditionsApr 26, 2016

From Wall Street bonuses to the balance sheet of Sri Lanka’s central bank


To get you started this week we have a nice little data treat in the form of Wall Street bonuses. Going all the way back to 1985 this data gives you a look at the averages and totals for bonuses paid out, and year over year change. If you want to see whether the grass really is greener, or if you’re really keeping up with the Joneses, follow this link.


US - Securities Industry


As always, we’re adding to our emerging markets data. Currently we’re focusing on Asia and the Middle East, specifically in the public finance and banking sectors.


Sri Lanka - International Reserves


Our final chart displays some of the latest additions of detailed time series for the Spanish labor market. The data covers indicators such as unemployment, employment, active population and affiliated workers, at both provincial and autonomous community level.


Spain - Unemployment, March 2016


The Data by Country

Global

LPX & NMX Infrastructure Indices

Bahrain

General Government Budget
Balance of Payments
Aggregated Balance Sheet & Flows of MFI Sector

Denmark

Real Estate Prices > Apartments
Sadolin & Albæk Market Barometer

Kuwait

Monetary Aggregates

Lebanon

Balance of Payments
National Accounts
Consumer Price Index
Government & Public Finance

Mongolia

Government & Public Finance

Pakistan

Balance Sheet & Flows of MFI Sector

Spain

Diverse labor market statistics

Sri Lanka

Balance Sheet & Flows of MFI Sector
Deposits & Loans
General Government

Uganda

Real Estate Indicators

United States

New York City Bonus Pool
More

Thoughts from The Dev TeamApr 18, 2016

On hard choices, simplifying your workflow, and our new Python (API)


Welcome to the first in a series of monthly posts from the product development team. In these posts we’ll be giving you a look at what we’ve been working on here in Gothenburg, Sweden, as well as general ruminations from our department. I guess it will be mostly me, Thomas Olsson, writing these posts, but occasionally someone else from the team might join in.


K.I.S.S.

We think that the Macrobond application is the best tool to use for pretty much everything our users need to do (not so strange, when you consider that we built it that way). That being said, there are some users who have not, yet, come to realize this, and so they continue to want to use other tools! Oh, the irony…

Allow me to clarify. Our philosophy is to offer the most commonly used statistical functions in an easy-to-use way. This sometimes means that we may not offer all the possible settings for certain analyses.

On purpose.

And with good reason! By leaving out features that are rarely used, we can make a more user-friendly interface. Which means more time for our users to do what they really want to be doing, instead of trying to wrestle with an unruly tool. Deciding what to leave out however, that is one of the most difficult parts of building a product. (Whatever else can be said about the man, in my view this was one of the true strengths of Steve Jobs, and essential to the success of the first iPhone. He dared to leave things out.)

What if you need more options?

That’s where APIs come in. What an API (Application Programming Interface) does is to make different applications collaborate. To give you an example let’s compare a workflow with and without an API. Let’s say you’re working in Macrobond and find some data you would like to put through EViews.

Without an API:

  1. Download the data from Macrobond
  2. Save it in Excel
  3. Open EViews
  4. Upload the data from the Excel file

With an API:

  1. Open EViews

With an API you can access the Macrobond data in EViews directly.

For a long time now, we’ve offered users the possibility to integrate Excel, EViews, and MATLAB into their workflow in the Macrobond application, via APIs for these programs. So those users who prefer to stick to the tools they know, or those that need features that aren’t widely used by their peers, can choose what works best for them. If you’re using Macrobond in conjunction with these tools and don’t know how to make use of these APIs, read this.


Macrobond + Python

Now we have added an API for Python to that list. Python is a programming platform, popular amongst financial analysts for powerful libraries like NumPy, SciPy and Pandas.

If you’re a fan of Python (the platform, not the British comedy ensemble, although naturally these things are not mutually exclusive) you’ll be pleased to know, when running Macrobond on the same computer as Python, you can:

  • Use any time series, including values, dates, and metadata, in Python
  • Convert a set of time series to a common calendar and optionally, a common currency
  • Fill in missing values in a few different ways
  • Upload your own series to your in-house database in Macrobond, which can then be used in the application and even shared with others

Downloading a time series and printing the values can be done with just a few lines of code:


import win32com.client
c = win32com.client.Dispatch("Macrobond.Connection")
d = c.Database
s = d.FetchOneSeries("usgdp")
print (s.Values)


The Facts

The API is included in the Macrobond application from version 1.15.88.

In the documentation on our help site you’ll find information about all the possibilities you have with the Python API, as well as many examples: https://help.macrobond.com/add-ins/macrobond-python-api/

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Your Overview of Data AdditionsApr 4, 2016

Making additions to our database is part of the day-in-day-out at Macrobond, and up until now we’ve published a weekly list of the main additions made. From now on we will be publishing data additions every other Wednesday. But we’ll kick off this change with our first post today.

These posts provide a less time consuming way to get an overview of data additions. Posts might highlight trends in data requests from our users, point out some of the more unusual data additions, as well as provide updates on progress made in ongoing projects. We will also include some example charts to give you a sense of the type of time series these additions include. For those of you who prefer to simply scan the list- not to worry. The list of data additions by country, with links to the application, will still be included.

So, what’s new?

Many users have expressed an interest in expanded emerging markets coverage. For the latest additions we’ve focused on adding data for the Middle East.

Middle East data



Under any one category, the data included can be highly detailed, as well as consist of long histories. If you see a country or region that’s of interest to you, we suggest exploring the data within the application, via the links provided. It’s the simplest way to stay up-to-date on new series that could impact your analyses.

Irish data



We’ve also made some additions for specific client requests. Sometimes we’re quite surprised by the level of detail these additions include. For example, if you’ve been waiting to investigate home building prices in Uruguay, you can now compare the price of a variety of 12cm bricks. No detail too small, as they say.

Uruguayan data


We will be back with more additions every other Wednesday, from the 13th of April. So check in then for the next review, either here or in your application news feed.

Bahrain

CPI

Indonesia

Residential Property Price Index by Region

Ireland

Loan Approvals

Jordan

Central Bank Balance Sheet
Deposits & Loans

Norway

Guest Nights

OECD

Gross Domestic Expenditure on Research & Development

Serbia

Construction Permits

Uruguay

Home Building Prices
More

International BEA data addedSep 15, 2015

International dataset was added in Macrobond separate BEA database. This addition ensures all BEA data categories are now available in MB.

The data is available in this location:

BEA > United States > International

What’s included?

Direct Investment & Multinational Enterprises (MNEs)

This dataset contains two types of statistics:

∙   Income and financial transactions in direct investment that underlie the U.S. balance of payments statistics and direct investment positions that underlie the U.S. international investment positions.
Operations and finances of U.S. parent enterprises and their foreign affiliates and U.S. affiliates of foreign MNEs.

International Transactions

BEA's international transactions (balance of payments) accounts include all transactions between U.S. and foreign residents.

International Investment Position

BEA's international investment position accounts include the end of period value of accumulated stocks of U.S. financial assets and liabilities.

BEA NEWS

More

Your Overview of Data Additions May 11, 2016

BIS residential property prices, The Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances & University of Michigan’s Survey of Consumers.

 

One of our many ongoing projects is to increase our coverage of Bank for International Settlements statistics (BIS). BIS data provides a unique opportunity for insight into the global financial system, intended to inform analysis of financial stability, international monetary spillovers and global liquidity. The most recent additions to the Macrobond database include data on real and nominal residential property prices. The chart below shows a selection of the countries the data is available for. To explore the data further click on the chart below to open it in the application, or follow the links provided in the list at the end of this post.

 

BIS Real Residential Property Prices Index

 

The Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey on consumer finances every three years since 1983. This survey plays an integral role in economists understanding of U.S. consumers’ finances, providing insight into the economic conditions of a broad cross-section of American families. The most recent data are from the 2013 survey, which, among other things, show substantial disparities in the evolution of income and net worth since the previous survey in 2010. The value of the data from this survey is the depth and variety of categories which can be explored and compared.

 

Federal Reserve Board, Survey of Consumer Finances, Holding & Values of Debt Items

 

The second of our two consumer survey additions is from the University of Michigan. The survey covers three broad areas of consumer sentiment: personal finances, business conditions and buying conditions. While we previously provided the headline consumer sentiment indices, we are now offering the data booklet too. This provides more in-depth data on the statistics that form the headline indices. The data is updated monthly, with a one-month delay for the latest available time series.

 

University of Michigan, Survey of Consumers, Home Buying & Selling Conditions

 

The Data by Country

Global

BIS Nominal Residential Property Prices

BIS Real Residential Property Prices

Canada

Spot Prices, Energy

France

Average Vinery Prices

Indonesia

External Debt Outstanding

Italy

Milan Real Estate Rent Prices

Milan Real Estate Sell Prices

Japan

Tourism, Arrivals and Departures

Libya

Gross Domestic Product

Luxembourg

Housing Permits

Pakistan

Scheduled Banks’ Deposit & Loans

South Korea

GDP Contributions: Expenditure Approach

Spain

Consumer Price Index Weights

Sweden

Guest Nights by Country & Accommodation

Annual Labor Force Survey

Switzerland

Gold Exports & Imports by Country

U.S.

Wells Fargo/Gallup: Small Business Index

Survey of Consumer Finances

Years of School Completed 

University of Michigan: Survey of Consumers - Data Booklet

More

Macrobond + CANSIMApr 22, 2016

CANSIM database added to Macrobond’s core data package


As a Macrobond user you can now access the CANSIM database in the Macrobond application. CANSIM is Statistics Canada's key socioeconomic database. Updated daily, CANSIM provides fast and easy access to a large range of the latest statistics available in Canada.


The CANSIM database in the Macrobond application contains 5,5 million time series, across a variety of categories. An overview of the categories can be seen in the image below, and explored in more detail in the application via this link. All users have access to the CANSIM database as part of our core offering. This means you can access the data immediately, without having to purchase it as an add-on database.


Canada, Cansim


For those who are familiar with CAMSIM, vector codes and table codes can be used to easily search and navigate the CANSIM database within Macrobond. Table codes can be searched via the database-specific search field in Macrobond, and CANSIM vectors can be searched by adding the prefix ‘cansim_’ to the vector code.


Below you can see a bar chart of the GDP data available per sector and province.



Canada, Cansim GDP per Sector

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Your Overview of Data AdditionsApr 15, 2016

Nowcasting from the New York Fed, and Forecasts from Fannie Mae


This week we’re looking at the recently released (as of April 12th 2016), recently requested, and even more recently added Nowcasting Report, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Why the urgency? Have a read through this article from the NY Fed to get a better idea about what’s included.

USA: Federal Reserve Bank of New York Nowcasting Report

Real estate price indicators and forecasts

Apart from our ongoing project to extend data coverage for emerging markets, we have also noted a trend in requests for more real estate data.

Ireland Real Estate Prices, Average Price, All Property Types


This week, several price indicators have been added, for Germany from VDA, as well as on a city or region level for Ireland. For the U.S., you can now find forecasted data on the real estate and construction sectors, from the U.S. agency, Fannie Mae.


US Housing starts; joined with forecast from Fannie Mae


Data additions by country/region

For a more comprehensive list of data additions made in the past few weeks, have a look at the list below. The links provided will take Macrobond users directly to the data in the application database.


Australia

BEC Import & Export
General Government Budget by State

Bahrain

GDP

Bangladesh

Deposits & Loans

Euro Area

STOXX 50 Corporate Bond Index

Germany

Reserve Maintenance
VDP Property Price Index

Finland

Socio-demographic Labor Force Statistics

Hong Kong

International Investment Position

Ireland

CSO Estimates of Household Income
House Prices Statistics

Malaysia

International Investment Position

Portugal

Tourism Statistics

Thailand

International Investment Position

United Kingdom

ICAP £ RIR Index

U.S.

Births & Birth Rates
Fannie Mae Housing Forecast
Port of Houston Container Traffic
New York Federal Reserve Bank Nowcasting Report

More

The Data Structure ProjectMar 10, 2016

The results of our annual customer survey suggested that our users were more satisfied with service, data and functionality than they were with data navigation. To address this, we started a project intended to re-structure how data is presented and navigated. One aim was to present data in a way that mirrors the sources- making it more familiar to many users. The other aim was for users who are unfamiliar with the data and sources to also find, and select data with ease.


This project is something that we will develop on an ongoing basis. At this point, however, we have made enough progress to present it to you. The project is focused on restructuring source data. This will allow you to move between a general, and detailed view of the data available, in a single pane, without having to perform multiple searches. This development is available from version 1.15.44 of the application.


As this is an ongoing project we are happy to hear your suggestions of which sources you would most benefit from having restructured. This way we can prioritize working on the sources most relevant to you. Let us know via the help menu in the application or by using our contact form.


The following example shows data from IMF, BOPS: Australia, IIP. Click on the link to see this view in the application.


Level one of five

When the slider is all the way to the left, at level one, you are provided with a top-level overview, in which you can see the top-level time series from within the set.


Level one of five


With the simple functionality of a slider (seen above), it becomes easy to navigate between, and view the different levels, of data available. The orange dots indicate that a more detailed view of the time series is available.


Level three of five

Level three of five

As always, you are able to quickly view metadata by holding the cursor over a time series.


Level five of five

Level five of five


This view shows the full extent of available series from the source. Those series that are shown in lighter grey text indicate that they are not available for this particular tab/view, in this case, Quarterly, USD.


Click on the links below to see other examples in the application.
BEA: US, GDP & Personal Income.
Economics - by source: US, Domestic Nonfinancial Sectors

More

National & Industry BEA data addedJul 6, 2015

National & Industry datasets added in a separate database increased coverage of the BEA data.

The data is available in this location:

BEA > United States > National
BEA > United States > Industry

What’s included?

GDP & Personal Income Tables

  • Domestic Product and Income
  • Personal Income and Outlays
  • Government Current Receipts and Expenditures
  • Foreign Transactions
  • Saving and Investment
  • Income and Employment by Industry
  • Supplemental Tables

Underlying Detail Tables

  • Real Inventories and Sales
  • Personal Consumption Expenditures
  • Government Current Receipts and Expenditures
  • Foreign Transactions
  • Gross Private Domestic Investment and Capital Transfers (NET)
  • Motor Vehicle Output
  • Other Tables

Fixed Assets Tables

  • Fixed Assets and Consumer Durable Goods
  • Private Fixed Assets by Type
  • Private Fixed Assets by Industry
  • Nonresidential Fixed Assets
  • Residential Fixed Assets
  • Private Fixed Assets
  • Government Fixed Assets
  • Consumer Durable Goods
  • Chained Dollar Tables

GDP by Industry

  • Value Added by Industry
  • Gross Output by Industry
  • Intermediate Inputs by Industry
  • KLEMS


What will be included soon?
We’re already working on including International data:

  • Direct Investment & MNEs
  • International Transactions
  • International Investment Position

and two recent BEA Regional data additions:

  • Regional Income
  • Regional Product


Data structure

Data series can be found using search function along with BEA CODE.

For example BEA, United States, Real Gross Domestic Product, Total, SA, Chained, AR, USD can be found by typing it’s BEA code A191RX. When sorted by series name, National Data can be viewed in exactly the same order as in source tables.


BEA NEWS

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