Australia slipped one place to 15 in the IMD World Digital Competitiveness Ranking (WDCR), with its key weaknesses remaining communications technology and business agility.
Releasing the Australian results of the WDCR, CEDA Chief Executive Melinda Cilento said the report showed the nation had several key strengths, including the flow of international students, its country credit rating and broadband mobile subscribers, where it ranked one, and tablet possession, where it ranked four.
But Australia’s performance continued to worsen on future readiness, ranking just 48 for agility of companies, down three places from last year.
“One silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the speed with which we have embraced digital opportunities,” Ms Cilento said.
“While the rapid adoption of digital opportunities has been a positive, we must now seek to excel in this era of digital globalisation. Understanding the drivers of digital and technological competitiveness and seizing the opportunities are critical to future jobs and economic growth as we emerge from the COVID-induced recession.
“Doing well in some areas but falling behind in other areas of digital competitiveness won’t cut it. As the report makes clear, leading economies cover all bases, strengthening digital infrastructure, developing skills and talent, and providing effective regulation and policy settings.”
In technology, Australia’s communications technology ranking was still poor, at 51.
Another area for concern was the development of tech skills; Australia ranked 40 on digital/technological skills and remained at 53 on graduates in sciences.
“Immigration has a critical role to play in addressing Australia’s tech skills needs and there is room for improvement. The survey shows we rank poorly on immigration laws and areas where we do very well, like international students, cannot be taken for granted in the current circumstances – we must be proactive in retaining our advantage in these and other areas,” Ms Cilento said.
“The survey also reveals a need to critically examine and enable the drivers of business and economic dynamism in Australia, as we consistently fall behind on scores related to managerial ability, our approach to risks and opportunities and fear of failure.
“In the lead up to the Federal Budget we have seen a series of announcements that address elements of our digital and tech competitiveness. They are important, but what is lacking is a strong and connected picture of how we will sustainably lift our capabilities and competitiveness relative to our peers and how we bring the broader community with us.”
Ms Cilento said a lack of trust was one of several obstacles in the way of more rapid uptake of digital services, including those provided by government.
The 2020 Edelman trust barometer, taken before the pandemic took hold, found 59 per cent of Australians were already concerned that the pace of technological change was too fast. Sixty-nine per cent felt government did not understand technology well enough to regulate it effectively. This was notably higher than the global average (61 per cent).
“Digital technologies have the potential to deliver very real economic opportunities and very real improvements to peoples’ quality of life, but the community needs to have confidence they are being advanced in its interest, and they enhance wellbeing,” Ms Cilento said.
The IMD World Digital Competitiveness Ranking measures the capacity and readiness of 63 nations to adopt and explore digital technologies for economic and social transformation.
It rates their performance in three areas: knowledge, technology and future readiness, with further subcategories within these areas.
The United States and Singapore held on to the number one and two rankings respectively, followed by Denmark, which moved up one place to third. Sweden moved down one spot to fourth, while Hong Kong jumped three places to reach number five in the rankings.
The World Digital Competitiveness Ranking is produced by the Switzerland-based International Institute for Management Development (IMD) World Competitiveness Centre. CEDA is the Australian partner.
Download the 2020 Australian results
See the 2020 international rankings
Read IMD media release: USA triumphs in rankings that could predict post-COVID economic recovery
CEDA is launching a Public Interest Technology program to advance a national cross-sector discussion that puts people and the public interest at the heart of technology, while promoting the development, take-up and use of technology and data in a way that supports a dynamic economy. Read more about the program here.
Melinda Cilento is available for further comment and interviews.
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CEDA – the Committee for Economic Development of Australia – is an independent, membership-based think tank.
CEDA’s purpose is to identify policy issues that matter for Australia’s future and pursue solutions that deliver better economic and social outcomes for the greater good.
CEDA has almost 700 members including leading Australian businesses, community organisations, government departments and academic institutions. Our cross-sector membership spans every state and territory.
CEDA was founded in 1960 by leading economist Sir Douglas Copland. His legacy of applying economic analysis to practical problems to aid the development of Australia continues to drive our work today.