Typically, a range of private, government and industry bodies are producing reports that play a valuable role in helping to fill data gaps about in the digital economy. Project-specific reports also provide useful insights into the drivers, barriers and benefits of broadband adoption and utilization.
There are gaps in what’s being collected, illustrated by a recent report commissioned by the Australian Government. There is almost unanimous agreement that existing datasets are inadequate for the purpose of measuring our future digital economy performance. Common themes emerge in these data gaps:
- Broader scope of digital economy performance measures – where broadband connection rates approach 100 per cent, current indicators are becoming less useful. In addition, the existing indicators are heavily focused on the internet itself, and may not provide insights into the “expansive” nature of the digital economy;
- Metrics to identify drivers and barriers to adoption and benefits from digital economy participation – some experts note that existing data does not provide sufficient insight into the diversity of uses, on why people are using technology employing them in in their business or personal lives, nor how this is the impacting them. Typical statistical surveys explore some dimensions of changing business practices, and the barriers and drivers; e.g. engagement with the digital economy. However, this the data may not be sufficiently granular to provide the detailed indicators required to monitor the complexity or dynamism inherent in the digital economy;
- Sector and international benchmarking – some experts note that digital economy benchmarking should occur at the sector level, and be analyzed against comparable international sectors. Whatever the level of analysis (regional, national), this could help determine which industries are lagging behind their counterparts and whether intervention by government or industry associations could assist to make them more competitive;
- Level of sophistication of digital economy engagement – current data do not detail sufficiently how people or businesses use broadband-enabled tools. For example, current metrics may ask a business whether it uses the internet to place and receive orders. A business that sends or receives orders by email may answer in the affirmative, just as much as a business that actually has a sophisticated e-commerce and ordering functionality on its their website. The ease with which customers can place orders online may have a direct bearing on the growth of e-commerce. Such distinctions considered at the industry sector level could assist in identifying areas of lag and would form part of an ‘ideal’ set of metrics.
The missing intelligence
It has become increasingly obvious that as the digital economy becomes more successfully diffused throughout the economy its impact and value will become more sophisticated. Hence, benchmarking of the impact and the value of the digital economy will need to become more sophisticated. Examples that should be collected about digital economy participation include:
- Benefits from the utilization of broadband and e-solutions (new revenues, cost savings, day-to-day operations made easier, etc.);
- Economic impact (direct and indirect), including productivity gains;
- The characteristics of businesses and households that adopt broadband technology;
- More details on for what businesses and households are using the internet;
- The impact of broadband access and subsequent internet use on business practices and performance; and individual practices and priorities; , including in terms of improving international competitiveness of business;
- The impact of high-speed broadband on the environment and energy use.