Australia’s digital competitiveness slipped last year, with our Networked Readiness Index rank falling from 16th to 18th place according to the latest World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Information Technology Report 2016.

The annual Global Information Technology Report is based on extensive research conducted by the WEF and its network of over 160 partner Institutes. The Australian Industry Group Chief Executive Innes Willox said Australia clearly still has some way to go to return to the world’s top ten despite the roll-out of the National Broadband Network and efforts from across the political spectrum to improve our digital readiness. The Ai Group is the WEF’s Partner Institute in Australia

“As an advanced economy, Australia ranks relatively poorly compared to its peers,” said Willox. “Indeed, there is a clear gap between the top seven ranked economies and other advanced economies. These countries (dominated by Singapore, northern Europe and the US) currently lead the way in embedding and leveraging digital technologies. Critically, they are characterised by a business sector that is embracing new digital technologies and innovations as core parts of operations.

“For Australia, the 2016 result is disappointing especially at a time of economic and political uncertainty when we should be doing all we can to improve our productive performance at all levels and through all means. It comes off a small improvement in 2015 (from 18th to 16th) and steers us further away from our top nine ranking in 2004.”

The report saw Australia performing well on aspects of infrastructure, use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) by individuals, and general ICT readiness. However, use of ICT and digital innovation by businesses were lagging. The report also found that Iceland and New Zealand have edged ahead of Australia in terms of digital competitiveness.

“This serves as a reminder that if we do not work harder to continue to improve our competitiveness, we will be further left behind by other advanced economies,” Willox added. “Australian businesses need to better embrace ICT and improve their capacity to innovate. Central to improving digital competitiveness will be development of effective policies to encourage business innovation and use of ICT and the development of the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills needed to leverage new technologies. This is all the more important in the context of Australia’s transition from the resource-related investment boom towards new drivers of growth.

“We note that initiatives over the last year, including the National Innovation & Science Agenda and the Industry 4.0 Taskforce, are important to support our participation in the fourth industrial revolution and to lift our overall global competitiveness. We encourage bipartisan support in these types of productivity-boosting initiatives.”

Other key findings from the Global Information Technology Report 2016 include the complementary roles of competition policy; policies to alleviate labour market polarisation; and an effective research and innovation framework.