Digital Australia in the ‘shadow of other nations’

Australia is caught in the shadows around investing in digital infrastructure, says new report.

Australia is the 13th largest economy globally – with an AAA rating across all major rating agencies. But its ability to keep well-ahead of digital infrastructure is an emerging vulnerability, according to a report by Ernst and Young.

This report, Digital Australia: State of the Nation, says the challenges around building digital infrastructure are many. These include geography, population size, economy, and the requisite investment.

The reality is the world won’t wait for Australia to play catch-up. “The debate isn’t so much around how fast Australians can download a movie (although that’s important!),” says the report.

The concern is more around the ability of businesses to compete with international peers, and for government to deliver services more efficiently.

Government and corporate Australia is building the digital infrastructure. However, the challenge is staying on par with peer nations to stay competitive. “The fix isn’t easy, but it’s necessary.”

Australia must also create well-developed digital innovation ecosystems. These will enable businesses (start-ups and incumbents) to realise the potential of the internet of everything, among other platforms.

Government rates well

In terms of online services, the Australian government is ranked eighth globally and seventh for the quality, relevance and usefulness of government websites.

These sites provide online information and participatory tools and services to citizens.

By contrast, Australian businesses only ranked twenty-fourth in the world for their adoption of ICT.

The biggest return on investment for digital government stems from using the right data for informed policy design.

New Zealand is taking a lead with this access, while sharing data securely across agencies to assess policies, and deliver cross-government value.

“Unhindered by the complexities of a federation, New Zealand has found it easier to forge ahead quickly in this area,” adds the report.

In the last two years, Australia has built its capability to leverage data-driven insights across departmental domains, and not just within silos.

These insights enable policy makers to invest in early interventions, and quantify the allocation of funds or resources.

“Data analytics is also enabling policy makers to understand any unintended consequences, allowing them to refine policies accordingly.”

User-centred design, and a willingness to experiment, will support constant improvement. “Sometimes the best result comes from asking citizens what’s important to them.”

Designers do not necessarily get it right: well-intended features may create inadvertent stumbling blocks. “For example, when a designer set a 1,000-word limit in an online form entry for a medical history, users were put off, thinking they had to write that number of words.”

Beyond the NBN

On the communications front, Australia’s digital infrastructure doesn’t stop at the national broadband network (NBN).  Other critical initiatives will underpin future success.

These include building new off shore submarine cables to link Australia with the world, launching a public cloud infrastructure, and accelerating mobile 5G networks.

Majority of Australia’s internet traffic goes off-shore. National competitiveness is linked to the performance and latency of submarine connections.

One perception is that satellites dominate the delivery of the global internet. “The reality is that undersea ‘hard wired’ cables are currently the most important connection point.”

Three new undersea cables are currently in the planning stage. These include Southern Cross NEXT, which will deliver the highest capacity and lowest latency internet connection.

This connection will boost consumer and business access to US-based internet sites and apps. The cable will connect Sydney, Auckland and Los Angeles, as well as several Pacific Island countries.

Report details at this site.