Foreword – Digital readiness is the key to societal resilience.
When we released the Cisco Australian Digital Readiness Index 2018 two years ago, it provided a rare insight into the components that contribute to building a digitally capable nation, and created a platform to encourage business and government leaders to double down on these investments to maximise future returns.
Little did we know that two years later the value of those investments would be repaid many times over by providing Australia with a robust and comprehensive digital capability that has played a critical role in our response to the COVID-19 crisis.
While the pandemic has exacted a high economic and social toll, its consequences would have been much greater had Australia not already made significant investments in digital readiness.
For example, the deployment of high-speed national network infrastructure has meant many organisations can keep their staff both safe and productive by enabling them to work from home. That same infrastructure provides a vital connection for thousands of students who participate in remote learning and has become the backbone for remote health consultations, keeping many of the frontline responders safe.
Likewise, investments in digital skills mean businesses and government agencies have been able to accelerate their rollout of digital services, including bricks and mortar restaurants and retailers who have switched to e-commerce-based solutions to continue trading.
The Cisco Digital Readiness Index 2020 measures seven components of digital readiness, and Australia scored highly across all seven.
The investments will play a vital role in helping Australia navigate through the post-COVID-19 world, but further work is needed if we are to achieve the productivity uplifts necessary to bring Australia out of recession and ensure we remain competitive. Cisco’s global research has always shown a high correlation between digital readiness and economic prosperity, and other nations are stepping up their investments accordingly.
Continued investment in digital infrastructure is essential, and we applaud the Australian Government’s announcement of an additional $3.5 billion investment in the National Broadband Network. As ongoing investments in 5G mobile networks demonstrate, the race to deploy faster and more pervasive networks is never over.
But this infrastructure will only deliver to its full potential if we invest in building the skills of our people to use, create and defend digital services. In addition to the need for ongoing support of the higher education sector, Cisco has also joined forces with TAFE Directors Australia and our partner Optus to call on the Australian Government to assess the growth in technologyintensive jobs requiring sub-degree level qualifications, to help the TAFE sector more rapidly prepare for and respond to anticipated demand. We have also called for funding of the development and delivery of microcredential digital programs to help in the reskilling and upskilling of workers displaced by recent developments.
Australian industry has a desperate and growing need for people equipped for a dynamic, digitized world, including having general digital skills that helps businesses to move up the value chain as industries further automate. Development of ‘blue tech’ or digital trade skills will be vital to meeting those needs.
Critically, we must also be sure to not lose sight of the need for the outcomes of these investments to be shared equitably across Australia.
The Cisco Australian Digital Readiness Index 2018 highlighted significant gaps in digital capability that exist within Australia. While this year’s report shows states and territories have changed their rankings in specific categories, the overall story still tells of a digital divide. Equitable access to digital services and training represents the 21st century equivalent of the age-old Australian concept of giving everyone a ‘fair go’, and the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of continued investment to ensure those communities that are least served digitally today do not experience additional hardship from future events.
At Cisco, we are committed to building Australia’s digital readiness, as a partner to government and industry, and through direct investments in the Australian community. Our efforts include investments in skills development through our Cisco Networking Academy program, in conjunction with tertiary and vocational training institutes, and through the funding of research positions at Australian universities and research centres under our Country Impact Plan.
Digital readiness is the key to economic prosperity, but it is also critical to building societal resilience. Only by continuing to invest in our digital capabilities can we maximise the benefits in the good times and ensure we are best placed to manage the future crises that will inevitably come our way.
Ken Boal, Vice President,
Cisco, Australia & New Zealand