The IMD World Competitiveness Center released its Digital Competitiveness Ranking 2019 last week, having done so every year since 1989.
It ranked the US first, followed by Singapore, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland.
According to the report, each of these five countries “share[s] a common thread in terms of their focus on knowledge generation, but they each approach digital competitiveness differently”.
It said that while the US and Sweden balance their focus between knowledge generation, creating a nurturing environment for technology development and being ready to adopt innovation, the other top five countries prioritise one or two of those points.
Meanwhile, Australia came in 14th place overall, down one place on last year.
“In the midst of uncertainty and a fluid global situation, it seems that business and societies that are agile correlate strongly with the IMD World Digital Competitiveness ranking. Knowledge also remains of paramount importance for the digital performance of different economies,” said Professor Arturo Bris, director of the IMD World Competitiveness Center.
Agility was one of the areas dragging Australia down the ranking, according to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA).
It noted that Australia ranked 45th for the agility of our businesses — three places lower than 2018.
Yet CEDA said it was our communications technology that was performing far worse, coming in ninth-last on the ranking.
“The results highlight that we need a broader national community discussion around the importance of R&D, investment in technology, and tech skills and how the benefits of these flow back to the community,” said CEDA CEO Melinda Cilento.
“While the Australian community has an appetite for new technology with a high uptake of smartphones and tablets, ranking ninth and third, respectively, we don’t rank well in terms of higher technical skills.”
Ms Cilento said that CEDA’s own research of some 3,000 people, forming its Company Pulse report released in September, found that “investment in technology and R&D were areas of disconnect between the community and business leaders”.
“The poll examined business priorities and business leaders rated the importance of research and development (R&D) and investment in new technologies much more highly than the general public,” she said.
“We need a stronger national conversation around how R&D and adoption by business of new technology can deliver broader opportunities and benefits to the community.
“In reality, R&D and investment in technology will underpin Australia’s future prosperity.”
The ranking comes amid industry concerns about Australia’s R&D Tax Incentive, with businesses claiming they are being pushed to the brink by clawbacks of funds from the ATO years after being received, while others have said the level of red tape and investment in compliance makes any benefits of the scheme not worthwhile.
ATO commissioner Chris Jordan admitted that the incentive has “been a problematic area for a number of years” in a speech to the National Small Business Summit in late August, while hinting at support for a move to direct grants.