Asia closing digital gap with the West, report finds

By on 07/01/2019 | Updated on 04/02/2022
Singapore: government support for digital transformation has seen it overtake the US

Singapore has overtaken the US in the support it provides for national digital transformation, according to analysis by the Economist Intelligence Unit, while Japan has inched ahead of the UK.

In the unit’s 2018 Asian Digital Transformation Index, Singapore again topped the overall results table, whilst Japan and Hong Kong overtook South Korea. But the research – which lines up with comparable data covering several western nations – also revealed that the gap between Asia and the West appears to have shrunk since the unit undertook similar research in 2016.

Along with the three top Asian nations, South Korea and Taiwan also compare favourably with western peers the US, UK and Australia in several categories covered by the index.

One of these is overall digital strategy development and implementation, in which Asian governments are ambitious and committed to achieving long-term goals, the report states. Some Asian countries are outpacing these three western countries in terms of infrastructure such as 4G mobile coverage, fibre deployment and average broadband speeds, it adds.

And South Korea, Japan and mainland China have given early attention to planning for 5G networks and supporting artificial intelligence (AI) and development, the researchers found.

The skills pipeline

Western countries are still top in terms of human capital, where Australia outpaces all other economies studied in enrolment levels in tertiary education. It also has a high number of professionals employed in telecoms, with only Singapore exceeding its score.

Singapore has taken several steps to ensure that its schools and universities produce graduates with digital skills that its businesses need, including updating curricula to emphasise “21st century skills”, and the introduction of lifelong learning programmes for employees at different stages of their careers, the report says.

South Korea is also very strong in its development of human capital, with universities and technical schools now prioritising the training of specialists in industry 4.0, and AI.

Building the infrastructure

Looking just at the Asian countries in the index, Singapore remains the continent’s frontrunner in terms of digital infrastructure development. This is partly due to its consistent implementation of ICT development plans, the unit notes – reflected in particular in the rollout of fibre network to businesses and homes, which was set out in a masterplan for ICT by the government.

Japan, which has risen two places in Asia’s infrastructure ranking, has effectively implemented government policy on ICT, and also undergone an accelerated adoption of mobile broadband services among its population.

Adopting new tech

The researchers added new indicators in calculating 2018’s table, to reflect new technology such as fibre connections, 5G and AI. Asian countries were found to have particularly strong performance in these, with mainland China and Japan excelling in fibre take-up. South Korea, mainland China and Japan are forging ahead with AI research and development, while 5G plans are well-advanced in South Korea and Singapore.

The report concludes that most economies in the index – including those in the lower tier such as mainland China, India and Malaysia – have access to the tools they need to bring about technology-led change. However, it warns that success will depend on changing employee mindsets and organisational culture, as well as getting the technology right.

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit Asian Digital Transformation Index

About Catherine Early

Catherine is a journalist and editor specialising in government policy and regulation. She writes predominantly about environmental issues and has held permanent roles at the Environmentalist (now known as Transform), the ENDS Report, Planning magazine and Windpower Monthly, and has also written for the Guardian, the Ecologist and China Dialogue. She was a finalist in the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition 2009, and was part of the team that won PPA Business Magazine of the Year 2011 for Windpower Monthly. She also won an outstanding content award at Haymarket Media Group’s employee awards for data-led stories in Planning magazine. She holds a 2:1 honours degree in English language and literature from Birmingham University.

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