30.06.2020Issues in digital capability

The use of technology is already a major part of our personal and professional lives. The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown that has followed, has however forced organisations and individuals to embrace the growing digitisation of our society and economy. With the use of technology increasingly being needed to conduct business and stay connected, it is important to think about how we can take advantage of this technological shift and the challenges that we face in doing so. 

The Committee is hosting an e-forum, ‘Implications of COVID-19 on our digital infrastructure, with a panel featuring Dr Ray Owen (Chief Technology Officer of NBN Co), Andrew Scott (Head of Technology at Telstra) and Professor Julian Thomas (ECP Director of Social Change, RMIT). The forum will be held at the Committee’s E-Room on 9 July, from 2 pm to 3 pm. The forum will consider the increasing technological needs following COVID-19 as well as some of the many issues confronting Melbourne’s digital capability. Those issues include physical infrastructure capability, digital inclusion, data usage, skills, and security. 

These issues are critical to making Melbourne a truly competitive global city 

In the lead up to our 9 July panel here are some key items to consider:

Infrastructure 

Ensuring that digital infrastructure is of a standard to meet the increasing technological usage needs is vital. For some years now, Australia has typically ranked low in internet speeds compared to other jurisdictions. In December 2019, Australia, for example, ranked 32nd out of 35 OECD countries. 

The COVID-19 lockdown saw many people shift their day-to-day lives online, such as working or learning from home, use of services such as telehealth and use of increased online recreational activities such as video streaming. Data from NBN Co has confirmed the increased usage across the network Australia-wide, with usage during peak Business Hours up 15 per cent during the week of 8-14 June compared to the pre-COVID baseline period of 24 February to 1 March. Similarly, usage during Evening Busy Hours and Early Evening Hours has also shown significant increases compared to the baseline. 

This highlights how important it is to consider the infrastructure needs of Australia’s and Melbourne’s technology requirements.  It is also important to understand how new technology can be used in conjunction with existing infrastructure to underpin business and personal digital capabilities. 

in the lead up to our 9 July panel on the implications of COVID-19 on our digital infrastructure, here are some key issues to consider: 

Supply and Demand 

The largest fibre network, the National Broadband Network, has been rolled out across Melbourne using different technologies with different capabilities. Additionally, 5G wireless internet is being switched on across Melbourne, promising faster speeds, and capacity. Ensuring that the technology mix is best practice to meet the expected increasing demands over time is vital.  

Digital inclusion and data usage 

In an increasingly digitally connected world, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic, Australians and Melburnians must have equal access to digital infrastructure and technology. According to 2018 data from the Australian Digital Inclusion Index, Greater Melbourne ranks first across the cities in Australia at 64.9 for individual digital inclusion- three points above the national average. It also ranks relatively highly for access and affordability. It is important for Melbourne to maintain this strong position in order to foster positive social inclusion and remain competitive with other regions and international cities. 

Digital engagement through using data and new technologies is crucial for business competitiveness. This provides them, for example, with the ability to provide better customer service and improved efficiency. During 2015-16, less than half of Australian businesses were using data effectively for marketing, design or improving processes. In June 2018, Deloitte researched Australian and New Zealand businesses on their usage of technology and found that 58 per cent were not using any exponential technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence. 40 per cent of these businesses did not expect to use such technologies in the near future. Deloitte also found that relative to businesses with basic levels of digital engagement (such as using only an email address to engage), advanced businesses earn on average 60 per cent more revenue per employee. Further research from NBN Co indicates that only 43 per cent of small businesses have a website, suggesting that there are opportunities to educate and assist businesses to enhance their e-commerce activities. 

In an environment where businesses and individuals rely so heavily on digital capability, it is therefore important to understand how enhanced personal and business digital inclusion and data usage can be achieved.  

Skills 

Ensuring Melburnians are adequately skilled in digital technology will be important, as increased digital capability in organisations means high demand for digital literacy in the labour force. CEDA estimates that approximately 5 million jobs will be lost due to increasing computerisation and automation, with agricultural and mining sectors already hit hard and the health sector likely to be impacted. The Foundation for Young Australians estimated in 2017 that more than 90 per cent of Australians will need to demonstrate some level of digital skill in their employment by 2022. These digital skills include the ability to use technology to communicate and research information as well as hard technical skills. Addressing the issue of upskilling Australians requires education in schools, tertiary sector and businesses. 

Security 

A robust level of security to protect the economy and data at a business and individual level is critical. Figures vary on exactly how much cybercrime costs Australian businesses, with the Australian Government estimating in 2019 it may cost up to $29 billion per year. Whatever the correct amount, cybercrime is an enormously costly challenge and affects individuals, the public sector and private sector alike. Australia and Melbourne could be established as something of a cybersecurity powerhouse through continued strong research and broad awareness of cybersecurity risks from individuals and organisations.  

We look forward to hearing from the panellists on the key issues facing Melbourne in relation to our digital capability and how we might enhance our strengths to ensure that Melbourne remains a technologically advanced and competitive city.  

Register for the forum ‘Implications of COVID-19 on our digital infrastructure,’.  

For more information about the Committee’s Competitive Internet Taskforce, please contact Leanne Edwards, Director Policy and Research at ledwards@melbourne.org.au or Mark Lillehagen, Policy and Research Officer at mlillehagen@melbourne.org.au

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