Counting the value of ‘digital’ to the economy

Editor's note: This is a guest post by Head of the Bureau of Communications Research and Chief Economist, Dr Paul Paterson. 

Since establishing the Bureau of Communications Research (BCR), I’ve taken a keen interest in the role of information and communications technologies (or ICT) in driving productivity and, more broadly, our economy. Economists have long recognised the importance of technological innovation in generating and sustaining growth in productivity. This is well understood in industries like manufacturing where the use of new technologies and processes has tangible benefits. The widespread impact that more embedded technologies such as information and communications technologies (or ICT) can have on service industries and the economy is less-well understood. It is clear there are impacts and that they are substantial, but unpacking the benefits of ICT and like technologies from other factors, and their ongoing accurate measurement and analysis, remains elusive.

The 2015 Connected Continent II report, prepared for Google, discusses how digital technologies are transforming our economy, and the opportunities these technologies present. The report notes that increasing access to and use of ICT is not only further changing the way consumers and businesses interact, but also how businesses and industries are organising themselves. It provides some very useful firm-level analysis of trends in this area.

Significantly, the Connected Continent report acknowledges the difficulty in compiling, accessing and analysing data and information on the impact of ICT. ICT is disrupting conventional market structures and processes, and it is critical to future national growth that firms and governments understand these developments and harness the opportunities these innovations provide. As the Department of Communications’ independent economic and statistical research unit, we in the BCR are undertaking work to address this. We’ve established a project to update, improve and broaden the measurement and analysis of the digitisation of the economy and its effects on productivity performance. This work will highlight to stakeholders the economic significance of ICT and related technologies and, importantly, inform the debate and public policy development process.

We’re also working with the Australian Bureau of Statistics on a review of ICT data and statistics, and will be working with other stakeholders including the new Digital Transformation Office on opportunities to further engage the benefits of ICT. Stay tuned for more from us on this.

See our second leading indicators report to see what changes are happening in consumption patterns, industry growth and industry investment in the communications sector. Email us on [email protected] for more.