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Australian businesses “need an attitude adjustment” or face being left further behind the world's leading digital economies, a senior industry figure has told a CEDA forum on digital competitiveness.
Australia slipped five places to 20 in the latest IMD World Digital Competitiveness Ranking, falling as far as 55 in the business agility sub-category.
It’s the country’s third successive fall with only Poland and Bulgaria recording bigger drops.
“For Australia to really succeed on the world stage when it comes to digital competitiveness, we frankly need an attitude adjustment,” Jon Whittle, the Director of CSIRO’s Data61 said.
“We need quite a big cultural change. We need to think much bigger and more ambitiously.
“As Jeremy Howard, who is a successful returning Australian entrepreneur, recently put it, if you do a pitch in Silicon Valley, it’s often greeted with the response of, ‘Well, can't you do something bigger?’.
“Whereas in Australia, the response you get is, ‘Could it be a little bit smaller?’”
Mr Whittle said there were also many reasons for Australia to be optimistic about its future digital competitiveness, including its standing in fields such as artificial intelligence.
"I actually think we've got a lot to be positive about, in particular with emerging digital technologies like AI, blockchain, cybersecurity, quantum technologies, robotics.
“If you look at those, there's a case to be made that Australia is actually performing rather well.”
But, he said, “we need to do more on nurturing digital talent”, including developing an “entrepreneurial mindset from day one”.
“[We need to do this] so they can get interdisciplinary training and learn how to apply their digital skills in sectors like manufacturing, health and resources that are critical to the Australian economy.”
“Turning out globally competitive companies”
Tech Council of Australia CEO Kate Pounder said the global rankings did not reflect what she was seeing on the ground.
"I actually think that digital competitiveness has increased in Australia over the last few years," she said.
"The value of the tech sector in our economy is equivalent to the third biggest industry.
"Last year, we created 65,000 tech sector jobs.
“A software engineer is now a more common job than a plumber, than a hairdresser, than a high school teacher.
"We think the biggest challenge for the industry is to fill the jobs we are creating.
"This is the single biggest risk to whether we achieve these goals ... A massive reskilling will be required."
She said Australia is “now turning out globally competitive companies" such as Atlassian, Canva, Afterpay and WiseTech.
"Canva is now the biggest privately held software company in the world, and that came out of Australia.
"Our leaders in this sector are having an impact on the world stage ... but I agree we could be doing better."