The United States is not the greatest country in the world, at least when it comes to information and communication technology. Last month, the World Economic Forum released its 13th annual Global Information Technology Report, which ranks the nations of the world by their “networked readiness” – that is, how much each country can use things like the Internet, smartphones and communication infrastructure to promote economic growth and the well-being of its citizens. America ranked seventh out of 148. Finland, Singapore and Sweden took gold, silver and bronze, as they did last year, followed by the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland; Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and South Korea rounded out the top ten.
To rank each nation, a team of economic and business experts looked at 54 different indicators. These included quantitative measures, such as the percentage of Internet users or the average number of days necessary to start a business, as well as qualitative criteria, such as the quality of math and science education in each country.
During a press conference, Beat Bilbao-Osorio, one of the report’s editors and an economist at the World Economic Forum, highlighted the gap between technologically advanced countries and developing nations. “This digital divide still persists between developed economies and developing economies,” he says. The gap, he says, shows no signs of narrowing; while all countries showed improvement, few developing countries are growing fast enough to catch up. Soumitra Dutta, another editor of the report and the dean of the Johnson School of Management at Cornell University, says it’s a matter of momentum. “It’s not just the technology; it’s the whole set of knowledge and business maturity and economic maturity together,” he says.
Bilbao-Osorio and Dutta say they hope that the report will help countries identify the weak links that are holding them back. “Countries have to make choices,” says Dutta. He points out that South Korea used to be in the thirties, and is now in the top ten. “The country has made it a focus of the last 20 years,” he says.
Some larger, developed countries also had lower rankings than might be expected, such as China (ranked 62nd) or Mexico (ranked 79th). Dutta says that making changes to increase networked readiness is especially difficult for countries with larger economies. “But it is possible,” Dutta says. And there are examples of countries that have made these changes, such as Spain, which was ranked at 38 in 2013 and is now at 34, despite their economic woes. “The key here is that Spain has made many significant investments in this area, even in tough economic times,” said Jeffrey Campbell, a senior director at Cisco who also spoke at the press conference.