Every year since 2000, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has closely examined the development of information and communications technology (ICT) in over 60 of the world’s major economies, and eval-uated and ranked their relative digital progress.
This benchmarking exercise has measured not only the availability and adoption of ICT (or “connectiv-ity”) in countries surveyed, but also development of the social, cultural and economic building blocks necessary for its effective use. More recently, it attempted to gauge the extent to which ICT and selected ICT-enabled services are being used, given that it is the use of technology which ultimately contributes to the overall economic progress of a country.
Ten years ago, people and governments around the world believed this pro-gress to be a journey, one which when successfully completed would bring increasing efficiency and prosperity. The journey, however, required preparation – largely in the form of investment in network infrastructure, skills and regu-latory frameworks. The notion of preparation thus lent itself to the term “e-readiness”.
WHERE WE STAND
E-readiness is a measure of the quality of a country’s ICT infrastructure and the ability of its people, businesses and governments to use it to their benefit. When a country uses ICT to conduct more of its activities, the economy can become more transparent , efficient and keeps moving ahead.
The past 2-1/2 years have brought severe shocks to economies and macro-economic structures of countries around the world, including New Zealand. But surprisingly, in contrast to the last major crisis of a decade ago, global confidence in ICT and the virtues of digital development remains intact. It continues to march on, and millions more people across the globe continue to be connected to and use broadband Internet and other advanced commu-nications technologies. This trend, despite the challenging economic environ-ment, is teaching us something valuable and one that we should look into more closely.
For 2010, the EIU has again assessed the world’s largest economies on their ability to absorb information and communications technology (ICT) and use it for economic and social benefit. Seventy countries are now covered in its annual e-readiness rankings, the results being displayed below.
USING AVAILABLE TECHNOLOGY BETTER
While most of the world has achieved “e-readiness” to one degree or another, this does not mean that every country has made equal progress in its digital preparation – far from it. Why? It’s because the challenges ahead for people and communities in countries like New Zealand, in our view, will now be in learning how to extract the maximum economic and other benefits from use of digital technologies.
The goal of achieving uniform access to the Internet across a country’s popula-tion continues to elude many policymakers, including ours. While a rich ICT platform remains the key underpinning of any country’s digital economy aspira-tions, access must naturally be accompanied by usage and vice versa – these are the next two key ingredients.
Usage can only increase in a society which values the benefits provided by the Internet. But educa-tion, both in terms of overall levels of formal learning as well as Internet literacy, proficiency and other technical skills, will be the primary driver for our economic, social and cultural progress in an increasingly connected digital world.
Gaining access to information and connecting the dots between the supply of services and the de-mand for them will be difficult if people don’t know or understand how to use these new technologies afforded by the Internet and the Web.
Therefore, as the characteristics turn from availability to greater usage of these technologies, the imperatives for countries like ours to extract the maximum economic and social benefits from the use of digital technology remain, and it would also be of help to measure our progress using these goal posts:
- Establish ICT as a focal point of education, and ensure students at all levels learn how to use digital technology to their benefit and to those in their communities;
- Ensure that our communities have affordable access to the highest qua-lity fixed and wireless data and voice connections possible;
- Encourage and support greater innovation and entrepreneurship from our youth – ones which create the best chances for ICT-enabled change to filter through our communities and then to our economy;
- Make possible the wide-scale provision of practically everything online (ex. services, goods, information, etc.), which provide genuine utility to our citizens and businesses; and,
- Ensure that our legal regime avoids placing undue shackles on the use of these technologies while also providing adequate protection to peo-ple and organisations from its abuse.
Finally, Faith in Families believes that by working in concert with business leaders, universities and other stakeholders, we can together create the con-ditions for the digital economy to take root staring with our youth at the local community level.
Time will judge whether we can move forward or not.