Finland also has something in common with Singapore (2nd), Sweden (3rd), the Netherlands (4th), Norway (5th) and Switzerland (6th). All of these advanced economies have maintained the same leading positions as 2013. Two more Asian countries have nudged into the top 10, with Hong Kong jumping six places to 8th and South Korea moving from 11th to 10th. The United States has risen slightly (to 7th from 9th) and the United Kingdom has fallen two places to 9th.
The report published on Wednesday, says that little progress is being made in bridging the digital divide between technology savvy nations and others. The stalling of progress is worrisome for emerging and developing nations, which are at risk of missing out on many positive impacts ICT bring, including increased innovation, economic competitiveness and greater social inclusion.
Despite the minor shuffles at the top, the story of the winners and losers in ICT-readiness is also a story of ICT inequality. The digital divide between developed and developing countries is widening as emerging nations, despite large investments in ICT, are failing to reap the same big economic and social benefits from technology as their more developed cousins.
It’s not just about the wiring
“Large emerging countries are hitting a glass wall,” said Bruno Lanvin, executive director of INSEAD’s European Competitiveness Initiative. “They are not receiving the benefits of the changes made in ICT…there are obstacles to receiving those benefits, especially in talent and skills.
‘’We also see that the digital divide is not homogenous,’’ Lanvin added. ‘’We have a digital divide in Europe between Northern Europe and Southern and Eastern Europe; we have a digital divide in the Middle East, between Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries on the one hand and North African countries on the other; and we have other divides in other parts of the world.’’
It’s a matter of policy
Policies matter, insists Lanvin. “Indeed policies that have to do not just with ICT specific measures, but also with environment, business climate and the ability to bring foreign investment and attract talent. All this is becoming very clear again from the rankings of this year’s report.” The case of Mauritius demonstrates this fact. Located in Sub-Saharan Africa, a region at the lower end of the digital divide, the country has managed to rise seven places to 48 to become the highest ranking country in the region. “Countries in even more remote areas of development have shown the way by being inventive, by being innovative and by gearing their ICT investment to higher levels of competitiveness, growth and job creation,” Lanvin added.
Asia tigers roar
Brazil, Russia, India and China (the BRICs) maintained their positions in the middle of this year’s rankings despite pressure from new challengers. “A few of the BRIC countries are lagging behind; this is not so much due to what the BRICs are not doing to leverage their ICT systems, but because other countries are going faster than them and moving ahead in the rankings,” said Beñat Bilbao-Osorio, senior economist of the Global Competitiveness and Benchmarking Network at the World Economic Forum.
Can big data close the divide?
Within the ICT landscape what is being called “big data” represents an unprecedented opportunity. The GITR authors say the data boom is akin to the Texas oil boom of the 20th century, calling big data a new asset class.
This will also have implications for policy makers. Those able to respond fastest will be able to help their companies and countries succeed. Policies on a range of ICT matters will count even more in the years ahead, the report’s authors suggest. “Issues like data privacy and internet governance will be actively discussed in the coming months, and will determine to a large extent how the world as a whole will be able to take advantage of the IT revolution, and the globalisation of the Internet,” Lanvin said.
Dublin Web Summit 2014: Separating hype and reality - Research on tech startups, VCs' declining role, survival, policies, challenges in Ireland and elsewhere.
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