Today, we released the third and latest edition of the OECD Digital Economy Outlook, our comprehensive analysis of emerging trends, opportunities and challenges in the digital economy. This year’s report comes at a critical point in the digital transformation, which has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, digital technologies have played a key role in responding to the crisis: widespread connectivity allowed some businesses and schools to move online, while track-and-trace mobile applications and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have helped to monitor and analyse the spread of the virus.
Yet accelerated digitalisation has also amplified concerns around security and privacy, while shedding light on persistent gaps in digital access, use and skills – within and across countries, sectors and demographic groups. As the crisis continues to raise the bar for digital access and use, it threatens to exacerbate existing divides and open entirely new ones. Governments should therefore seize this opportunity to steer the digital transformation towards a more inclusive and resilient post-COVID future.
- Widespread connectivity has allowed many to adapt to the crisis
Our report finds that connectivity has continued to improve over time. Mobile broadband subscriptions nearly tripled between 2009 and June 2019, rising from 32 to nearly 113 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, while average mobile data usage quadrupled over the course of four years, reaching 4.6 GB in 2018. Although fibre connections have increased at a slower rate, by June 2019 they accounted for 27% of all fixed broadband connections in the OECD and no less than 50% in nine OECD countries.
- But there are still significant divides in access, use and skills
Across OECD countries, Internet users ranged from over 95% to less than 70% of the adult population in 2019, and there are important demographic differences, as well. Although 58% of those aged 50-74 used the Internet daily in 2019 (up from only 30% in 2010), this remains well below the average share of daily Internet users aged 16-24, which was close to 95%.
There are also differences in digital diffusion and uptake across firms. Before the pandemic, e-commerce accounted for 19% of firms’ turnover in the OECD, yet this belies stark discrepancies between large firms (24% of turnover) and small firms (9%). And although the use of big data has increased over time, it remains highly variant across both countries and sectors. In 2018, more than 25% of all information and communication technology firms in the European Union used big data, compared to just 10% of all firms.
- Governments are increasingly putting the digital transformation front and centre
By mid-2020, 34 OECD countries had put in place a national digital strategy co-ordinated at the highest levels of government, and they are devoting more attention to emerging digital technologies such as AI, blockchain and 5G infrastructure. By mid-2020, 60 countries had established a national AI strategy, and several OECD countries – Australia, Austria, Colombia, France, Germany, Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States – have issued national 5G strategies. Several countries – Australia, People’s Republic of China, Germany, India and Switzerland – have issued a blockchain strategy, while others (France and Italy) are currently developing one.
- But more needs to be done to ensure an inclusive digital transformation
This strategic trend is encouraging, but may not be enough to ensure a resilient and more inclusive digital future. The COVID-19 crisis reinforces the need for a co-ordinated, whole-of-government policy approach to digital transformation. This requires a balancing act that will not be the same for all countries, as cultural, social and economic factors influence the most suitable policy environment.
The OECD Going Digital Integrated Policy Framework provides a way forward. Oriented around seven building blocks – access, use, innovation, trust, jobs, society and market openness – the framework brings together the policies that governments must consider in order to shape a common digital future that improves lives and boosts economic growth and well-being. These pillars, and the indicators and policy guidance that underpin them, have become even more critical to policy decisions in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
See more new data, analysis and policy recommendations in the OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2020.