Australia’s Digital Economy – it’s time to pull our socks up. 

Australia, despite all of our advantages, continues to lag behind the rest of the developed world in the digital economy.

While reading the Digital Economy Outlook 2015 report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), I couldn’t help my disappointment for the country that I’m proud to call home. The country I’ve built a business in, the country I employ people within. Furthermore, it’s the country I’ve tried to help by being an active and willing voice in the push to drive the digital agenda. I was embarrassed by what I learnt.

In some instances Australia either has no data to provide, or we don’t even make it on to the chart. Countries such as Spain, Russia and Poland export more ICT services than Australia.  We rank low in terms of our investment in activities for innovation.

This lag is affecting our competitiveness, limiting our productivity and will stifle our future growth.

Over the years, I’ve been asked to provide input into a range of digital programs and I’ve always found myself pushing the boundaries to empower businesses to achieve more. I was recently involved in a report on digital productivity for small business by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland. The result painted a clear picture: small business is going backwards on the digital agenda.

One in four businesses said they were concerned about the availability of people with digital skills, more than half didn’t have a digital marketing plan, and 34 percent said ICT was a high-cost activity with a low or unknown ROI.

Despite the compelling data, it was not the news many wanted to hear – who wants to be told that their business may be increasingly uncompetitive on the world stage?

Worryingly, business groups and our politicians are not focused on a unified message to sustain economic growth. Despite the valiant efforts of a few, the underlying economy struggles with productivity issues.

As a population, we are blind to the problems of low productivity, low jobs growth and an increasingly uncompetitive economy, and the choices we face in the future will not be pleasant. This hard path has instilled fear in our politicians, with nobody showing strong political leadership to tackle the hard issues like major tax reform and industrial relations needed to support digital growth.

We need to change the game. We need to find ways to embrace digital disruption, not make it illegal. We need to encourage innovators, we need to give clear tax breaks for those who will take ‘real business’ risks on their ideas. We need to focus on new skills, we need to teach businesses to sell globally. We need to find the right balance on the hard issues of productivity, which are stifling our economic growth. Australia is in dire need of a single focus on the digital agenda, so we can stop playing at the edges. We all have a part to play, so it’s time to pull our socks up.

 

Productivity, economic growth and digital economy reports released this month:

OECD’s Digital Economy Outlook 2015.

Deloitte’s Digital Government Transformation: Unlocking the Benefits of Digitising Customer Transactions released by Fed­eral Min­is­ter for Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull.

CSIRO’s masterplan Australia’s Innovation Catalyst which shows that Australia ranks 81st in the world in terms of innovation efficiency.

Executive Chairman