Over the last year, the global economy has contracted by 4.4% due to a pandemic. At the same time, one trend has accelerated worldwide: digitalization. As countries face repeated lockdowns, school closures, and shutdowns of entire industries, digital capabilities—whether for remote schooling, e-commerce, or home-based work—have become more crucial than ever. But how exactly has this been going on around the world—and what do governments, businesses, and investors need to do to get to the top?

We are in the middle of a technological revolution in which artificial intelligence, 3D printing, virtual reality and other technologies converge. This will affect every industry and every economy in the world. The ability of a country to navigate these changes and build competitiveness around these digital technologies will determine not only its future wealth, but also its geopolitical position. 

Against this background, we need to analyse how countries have developed their digital competitiveness over the last three years. The World Economic Forum’s Digital Riser Report answers three questions: Which ‘Digital Riser’ countries have done well and improved their position relative to their peers, which countries have lost ground, and what can we learn from the best? We can refer to the report for the current topic. 

Across the globe, digital incumbents are faced with new and dynamic competitors. Within the G7, France was able to make the most of its relative digital competitiveness between 2017 and 2019, making the country the top Digital Riser in the G7; on the other hand, Italy and Germany declined the most in the G7. Within the G20, the ranking reveals interesting patterns for the two global digital super-powers: China and the US. It shows that China has significantly increased its digital competitiveness, while the US has decreased over the same period, mainly due to a decline in the attractiveness of international talent. The top three in the G20 are Saudi Arabia, France and Indonesia. India, Italy and Germany are the last. 

The report (as mentioned above) also measures the two key dimensions of digital competitiveness, the ecosystem of the country and its mindset. These are based on five items from the Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum, which analyses the progress of 140 countries along the mindset and ecosystem dimensions, as well as the absolute, accumulated change in ranks between 2017 and 2019. There are two major differences between the Global Competition Report and the Digital Riser Report. First, while the Global Competitiveness Report Report analyses the overall competitiveness of countries, the Digital Riser Report analyses their digital competitiveness only as indicated by their digital ecosystem and their thinking (mindset). Second, while the Global Competitiveness Report analyses changes over a one-year timeframe, the Digital Riser Report shows how countries have made progress over the last three years.

Apart from the ranking itself, we also analysed the policies followed by the top Digital Risers countries. The analysis of the World Economic Forum (WEF) shows that all Digital Risers have certain things in common that other governments can learn from when designing their country’s digital strategy. Their report includes detailed overviews of each of the top three Digital Risers in each region. Here’s a summary of the best practises they share:

1) The top Digital Risers around the world have invested in talent and made innovation and entrepreneurship easier for companies

For instance, Indonesia and the Dominican Republic have invested heavily in digital education. Indonesia, for example, has launched a digital talent scholarship programmed to provide certification to 20,000 people. In the meantime, the Dominican Republic has launched the ‘One Computer’ initiative to give every child access to a laptop at school. Other success factors for Digital Risers include their ability to attract international talent. The Philippines-with its start-up visa program-and Indonesia, France and Latvia are the success stories here. Digital Risers have also made it easy, quick and cheap to start up companies. Azerbaijan, for example, reduced the time to start a company from more than 3 days to less than 1 day, while Latvia introduced special tax and financing schemes to support young companies.

2) The top Digital Risers have followed comprehensive, swiftly-implemented plans along a long-term vision

Most Digital Risers share a deliberate and comprehensive government programme with high-level support, such as France’s La France Tech or Saudi Arabia’s ICT Strategy 2023 and Arabia’s Vision 2030. Start-ups were a key focus area for Digital Risers. Their growth has been supported by large-scale initiatives such as the J-Startup Program in Japan or the 1000 start-up movement in Indonesia. France, for example, has set up a new EUR 5 billion fund, while Armenia is supporting start-ups up to EUR 50,000.

The very report of the World Economic Forum, which we are referring to, shows that while some countries are making rapid progress in digital technologies, others are losing ground. Countries like the USA, Sweden and Singapore are often perceived as digital champions, but the results show that they are not necessarily dynamic digital risers.

Only Singapore has slightly improved its relative position over the last three years. On the other hand, the USA and Sweden actually lost ground at the same time. This highlights that digital competitiveness is developing dynamically and that new digital champions can emerge around the globe with the right policies. 

References: 

  1. https://www.borderless.net/news/borderlessfuture/which-economies-showed-the-most-digital-progress-in-2020/
  2. https://ncfacanada.org/which-economies-showed-the-most-digital-progress-in-2020/
  3. https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Featured%20Insights/Europe/Central%20and%20Eastern%20Europe%20needs%20a%20new%20engine%20for%20growth/The-rise-of-Digital-Challengers.ashx

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