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Must try harder: Australia losing ground in the digital race


Australia’s ability to compete in the digital economy has slumped during the coronavirus pandemic as local businesses have become less agile and digital training remains weak, an international survey has found.

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The survey showed that Australia’s ranking had dropped five places to 20th on a list of 64 countries in terms of digital competitiveness.

The respected Switzerland-based International Institute for Management Development, which conducts the survey each year, also ranked Australia near the bottom of the list for business agility and taking advantage of opportunities presented by the digital economy.

The results showed Australia was not keeping pace with the rest of the world, the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia said.

CEDA chief executive Melinda Cilento said even more worrying than the slippage in Australia’s overall ranking was its declining performance when it came to future readiness (22nd place out of 64 and down from 14th five years ago) which measured a country’s ability to sustain its digital competitiveness over time.

“This means Australia will struggle to keep pace with the most digitally competitive nations and it underlines the challenge ahead for Australia to meet the federal government’s ambition for the nation to emerge as a leading digital economy by 2030,” she said.

Digital competitiveness measures a country’s ability to develop cutting edge technologies as well as the digital “literacy” of its population and how much opportunity there is for research and development in the sector.

Cilento said one of the most worrying findings of the survey was Australia’s low ranking (31) for knowledge transfer between companies and universities.

She said the results should prompt the federal government to appoint a “chief technologist” to help build community trust in and understanding of emerging technologies.

One factor in which Australia had previously shone in the survey was in underlying talent, driven by its ability to attract international students. However this had suffered during the pandemic.

Cilento said the results showed the importance of Australia re-opening its borders to skilled migration to ensure a good supply of high-tech talent.

“Continued skill shortages in the technology space will restrict the ability of businesses to embed digital improvements in everyday business processes and stunt future innovation.,” she said.

The United States topped the survey for the fourth year running, scoring well in consumer attitudes, business confidence and access to venture capital.

Hong Kong came second, followed by Sweden, Denmark and Singapore. Other poor performers included Japan, Poland and Bulgaria.


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