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Does Australia need a chief technologist?

By Grace Ormsby
01 October 2021 | 1 minute read
Melinda Cilento

A new report has revealed Australia’s digital competitiveness as a major concern over the next decade – and it’s led to a call for government intervention.

Based on the IMD World Digital Competitiveness Ranking (WDCR), Australia is now ranked 20th among a total of 64 countries ranked by the annual list.

This ranking is produced by the Switzerland-based International Institute for Management Development (IMD) World Competitiveness Centre.


According to the Australian partner for IMD, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), it’s the third year in a row that Australia has fallen in the rankings. It’s also the third biggest rankings slip among all named nations, with only Poland and Bulgaria recording bigger blows to their digital competitiveness rank.

CEDA said Australia’s biggest weaknesses are around business agility and digital skills and training.

Despite the recent and rapid adoption of digital opportunities by businesses to simply survive through COVID-19, CEDA chief executive Melinda Cilento said, “Australia is not keeping pace with the rest of the world.”

She outlined: “Lifting digital competitiveness would enable Australia to better leverage digitisation and new technologies to create value for customers, provide new job opportunities, improve government services, and find solutions to challenges like decarbonisation and climate change.

The CEO pointed to Australia’s poor performance in the area of future readiness as of “particular concern”.

Calling it Australia’s worst result in the history of the index, Ms Cilento explained that future readiness underpins a country’s ability to sustain digital competitiveness over time.

“This means Australia will struggle to keep pace with the most digitally competitive nations, and it underlines the challenge ahead for Australia to meet the federal government’s ambition for the nation to emerge as a leading digital economy by 2030.”

But all’s not lost, with the CEO recommending immediate government intervention to ensure Australia can take its place as a well-functioning digital economy within the next ten years.

“One immediate step the federal government could take towards that 2030 goal is to appoint a chief technologist,” she advised.

“A chief technologist would work to build community trust and understanding in emerging technologies, including through transparent technology assessments, and would provide leadership across emerging technologies, knowledge and future preparedness.” 

So, how exactly does Australia rate on a global level?

Australia ranked 55 for business agility, with executives ranking themselves particularly poorly for agility of companies and responding to opportunities and threats.  

Australia also ranks just 31 for knowledge transfer between companies and universities. 

“Unlocking greater collaboration between universities and businesses in line with the federal government’s University Research Commercialisation Scheme Taskforce will be a necessary spark for investment, innovation, and value creation,” Ms Cilento highlighted.

Australia also recorded significant falls in the categories of talent and training and education in previous years, which was in many ways attributed to closed borders.

In 2021, Australia ranked just 45 in international experience, down eight places from last year’s results, 44 in digital and technology skills, down four places, and 58 in employee training, down 10 places.  

According to Ms Cilento, “these results highlight the importance of re-opening Australia’s international borders to skilled migration and skilled occupation lists reflecting the critical need for high tech talent in emerging areas”.

She expressed concern that continued skill shortages in the technology space would “restrict the ability of businesses to embed digital improvements in everyday business processes and stunt future innovation”.

Despite the wide-ranging concerns, the report did show Australia has several key strengths, including its regulatory framework to support starting a business, its IT integration in terms of software piracy, and E-Government. 

Holding on to the top spot in this year’s edition of WDCR, the United States held on to the number one place – a position it has now held for four consecutive years.

CEDA flagged this number one ranking was due to its highly responsive consumer attitudes, the prevalence of technology and business confidence in accessible venture capital.  

Does Australia need a chief technologist?
Melinda Cilento reb
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Grace Ormsby

Grace Ormsby

Grace is a journalist across Momentum property and investment brands. Grace joined Momentum Media in 2018, bringing with her a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Communication (Journalism) from the University of Newcastle. She’s passionate about delivering easy to digest information and content relevant to her key audiences and stakeholders.

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