How to innovate in the digital economy

The Global Information Technology Report reveals who is leading the world as investors of new technology. Vision investigates how the top five generate economic impact

What do Finland, Sweden, Norway and the US have in common aside from a love of Nordic noir television? (President Barack Obama is said to be a fan of grisly political thrillers set in Northern Europe such as Borgen.)

These four countries lead the world when it comes to generating economic impact from investments in information and communications technologies (ICT), according to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Information Technology Report 2016.

This group of high-achieving economies is at the pinnacle of the report’s Networked Readiness Index – a gauge of countries preparedness to tap into the benefits of emerging technologies. The group's economic impact score is 33 per cent higher than other advanced economies as early and enthusiastic adopters of ICT. 

The UAE was found to be at the forefront of NRI in the Middle East, as 'leading the way to greater digital connectivity by providing a consistent vision for the sector and achieving success at promoting it,' said the WEF. The UAE was followed on the NRI Index by Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. 

What makes these countries stand out as pioneers? Vision uncovers how high performing countries are innovating in their digital economies. 

Finland

Since Angry Birds, an app developed by company Rovio in 2010 and downloaded 50 million+ times, the Finnish digital gaming industry has taken flight. 

And the growth and internationalisation of this sector is all part of the The Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (Tekes)'s plan to fund technological breakthroughs in the country.  

Likewise, the Productive and innovative Finland — digital agenda for the years 2011–2020 sets out the government's clear strategy to digitise public services, ensure the ageing population have digital skills, promote transparency through data availability and sell digital services and products all over the world.

'Extremely good access to the latest technologies as well as venture capital, and its businesses highly connected,' characterise Finland, says the WEF report. 'These factors are all important in helping Finland achieve its top global rank in economic impacts.'

Sweden

It's no secret that Sweden is a global IT hub with more internationally renowned start ups – from Spotify to Skype – than Silicon Valley.

Now more than ever, businesses are taking advantage of the fact that their consumer base is highly connected, which is reflected in one of the highest rates of B2C interaction globally, says the WEF report. 

The country has done so by cracking connectivity issues in geographically challenging areas, making broad band accessible to 99 per cent of homes, and has the highest number of ICT specialists in the workforce in Europe, almost twice the EU average. 

Norway

The digital economy in Norway is built on a very solid basis of top regulatory and innovation environments as well as the world’s best ICT infrastructure, according to the WEF report. 

Similar to the situation in Sweden, Norwegian firms are capitalizing on the high ICT literacy among the general population and workforce by using digital technologies heavily in their interactions with consumers as well as among each other

US

The United States stands out for an extremely favourable business and innovation environment that has given rise to one of the most agile and digitized business sectors globally. The public sector is also using digital technologies effectively to deliver services to citizens and to facilitate participation.

Singapore

Overall, the achievement of a small country to rank highly is to a large extent the result of strong government commitment to the digital agenda, including its Smart Nation program that aims to empower people and businesses through data.

Singapore's push to become the world’s first Smart Nation seeks to create an 'anticipatory government' that can better use technology to enhance public services, empowering citizens and businesses to a participate in engaging government to make more informed decisions. 

The global financial centre has become known as a 'Living Laboratory' thanks to several ongoing projects by government agencies and the industry to tests new technologies. The Jurong Lake District, a major commercial node outside Singapore's central business district, is one such test bed for technology pilots such as driverless buggies, smart park lighting and an automated system to determine the cleanliness of public areas.