The Cisco Digital Readiness Index was compiled using a wide range of data from 2017. The top 10 countries were the US, Switzerland, Singapore, the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, Sweden, South Korea, Norway and Australia.
Factors considered came under the headings of technology infrastructure (eg, fixed broadband subscriptions), technology adoption (eg, mobile device penetration), human capital (eg, adult literacy), basic human needs (eg, life expectancy, sanitation), ease of doing business (eg, rule of law), business and government investment (eg, government success in ICT promotion), and the start-up environment (eg, time needed to set up a business, availability of venture capital).
The Index used a scale of 0-25, and all countries fell within the rages of 5.9-20.1. Australia's score was 17.34, but there were significant variations among the states and territories, so much so that the companies couched their findings in terms of a "digital divide".
Victoria sits in second place overall, thanks to a high level of technology adoption and the presence of leading digital companies such as Seek, REA, Carsales.com and MYOB. It also has an above-average startup environment. The state's business and government investment is not as strong as its human capital.
Cisco ANZ head of government affairs Tim Fawcett noted that there had been some recent large infrastructure announcements. In addition, recent funding increases for the education sector should help Victoria's future human capital scores.
New South Wales was ranked number three. It has the highest spending on R&D by businesses and a strong start-up community, and is an easy place to do business, but was held back by lower scores for human capital.
Western Australia's fourth place was due partly to the effect of its large size on the provision of infrastructure. That offset its high scores for human capital (particularly its relatively young population) and technology adoption.
Queensland has good technology infrastructure (including the high penetration of 4G mobile services), but placed fifth due to poor performance in terms of business and government investment, and the ease of doing business.
South Australia's ageing population and low levels of business and government investment led to its sixth place. On the positive side, Adelaide has a strong research and education sector, and a 10Gbps fibre network. Since the data used in the study was compiled, the SA Government has made some announcements that will help the start-up sector.
Trailing the field are Tasmania (scoring 9.65) and the Northern Territory (4.80).
Seventh-placed Tasmania was ranked low in each category, with low levels of post-secondary education and high levels of unemployment identified as underlying causes. Fawcett acknowledged recent announcements aimed at improving education in the north of the state, particularly those involving associate degree and diploma courses.
The Northern Territory was placed last overall, and in terms of basic needs, business foundation, technology adoption and technology infrastructure. It was ranked seventh for its start-up environment, and sixth for business and government investment. The bright spot was human capital, where the Territory's relatively young population (median age 31.8) helped push it into third place. Darwin is "thriving", said Fawcett, and work is being done to support a start-up community.
"Despite a strong overall score, the benefits of digitisation need to be better shared amongst all Australians we need to build a more digitally inclusive society. As governments, businesses and citizens increase everyday activity using online platforms, we need to make sure that everyone can participate equally to ensure all segments of society and the economy experience the benefits that digitisation brings regardless of where they live," said Cisco ANZ vice-president Ken Boal.
"In addition, competitor nations in North America and Western Europe are investing heavily in digital networks and skills, so if we don't invest equally, Australia will run the risk of losing its position near the top of international league tables. Cisco is ready and willing to help Australia keep its place at that top table."
The report made seven recommendations for Australia to retain its position at the digital 'top table' and to overcome the digital divide:
- Digital technologies and solutions should be part of the policy formulation process to ensure Australia both maximises the benefits from the investments made in digital capabilities, while ensuring it is well positioned to continue doing so into the future.
- Investment in infrastructure: Continued investment in underlying infrastructure such as the national broadband network and Black Spot Program will be essential in years to come.
- Increase investment in vocational education with a focus on digital skills and knowledge so that digital skills are embedded in all vocationally oriented training, to ensure the creation of a workforce that are suitably equipped to gain the greatest benefit from digitisation.
- Find ways to increase interaction between industry and academia to find new ways to bring innovations to market quickly, to ensure that benefits and commercial returns are both maximised and accelerated.
- Retraining (reskilling) the existing workforce: It is vital that workers in sectors that are being impacted by digitisation receive the training necessary to adapt to this change.
- Develop digital skills within the government workforce to ensure Australia maintains a forward path towards digitisation. and provide the basis for rapid adoption of digital technologies and services.
- Build up digital readiness capability in rural and regional areas: increased investment in capability building in regional Australia is essential to ensuring that all Australians are able to reap the benefits of the digital dividend.
Boal said Cisco "will let the data do the talking" when discussing these issues with governments. Australia's large cities are under pressure, he said, so "we need to lift the entire country", and this requires a whole of government approach.