Australia’s digital competitiveness is losing ground, with the nation slipping five places to 20th among 64 countries ranked by the Swiss-based World Competitiveness Center.
Only Poland and Bulgaria recorded bigger falls over the past 12 months.
The list takes into account the capacity and readiness of economies to adopt and explore digital technologies as key drivers of economic transformation in business, government and wider society.
Australia’s tumble is our third in a row. The United States topped the rankings for the fourth year running, while China, which has surged 15 places in that time, jumped one spot to 15th.
In terms of regional competitiveness, the research found Eastern Asia outstripped North America and Western Europe with investment in science education, research, robotics, and high-tech exports.
Australia’s main weaknesses were shown to be in the areas of business agility, digital skills and training.
“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic leading to the rapid adoption by businesses of digital opportunities to survive, Australia is not keeping pace with the rest of the world,” said Melinda Cilento, chief executive of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia.
Lifting digital competitiveness would enable Australia to provide job opportunities, improve government services and find solutions to challenges like decarbonisation and climate change.
Unprepared for the future
“Of particular concern is Australia’s poor performance in terms of future readiness – our worst result in the history of the index – which underpins a country’s ability to sustain its digital competitiveness over time,” she said.
Ms Cilento says Australia will struggle to keep pace with the most digitally competitive nations and faces a challenge to meet the federal government’s ambition to emerge as a leading digital economy by 2030.
One immediate step to counteract the problem would be to appoint a chief technologist who would “work to build community trust and understanding in emerging technologies” and provide leadership in the area of “future preparedness”, she says.
The World Digital Competitiveness Ranking report shows Australia has several key strengths, including its regulatory framework to support starting a business, its IT integration in terms of software piracy, and e-government.
However it ranked 55th for business agility, with executives rating themselves particularly poorly for responding to opportunities and threats.
Australia also ranks just 31st for knowledge transfer between companies and universities.
It placed 45th in international experience (down eight places), 44th in digital and technology skills (down four spots) and 58th in employee training (down 10).