Hashtag for Government Digital StrategyThe Federal Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Senator Stephen Conroy this morning released the Federal Government’s National Digital Economy Strategy.

The Strategy is the product of over 18 months work by the Minister’s Department. It articulates the Government’s vision for Australia’s digital economy. By defining eight “Digital Economy Goals” the Strategy aims to establish defined benchmarks for measuring the extent to which Australia is utilising the potential of digital infrastructure and realising the opportunities of digital communications.

The Strategy’s aim is simply stated: That by 2020 Australia will be among the world’s leading digital economies.  

What it means to be a ‘digital economy’ can be judged by the eight goals the Government has set for Australia in the Strategy:

  • online participation by Australian households;
  • online engagement by Australian businesses and not-for-profit organisations;
  • smart management of our environment and infrastructure;
  • improved health and aged care;
  • expanded online education;
  • increased teleworking;
  • improved online government service delivery and engagement; and
  • greater digital engagement in regional Australia.

Crucially the Strategy sets out why these goals are important for Australians and how investment and innovation in each area is now and will in the future lead to better economic and social outcomes.

This is important because, surprisingly perhaps, the Strategy’s high level goal for Australia as a digital economy is defined in terms of broadband penetration and usage rankings rather than economic outcomes – production, jobs, efficiency etc. - or social outcomes. The Strategy does significantly refer to such measures in the analysis of the eight goals and in doing so provides a cogent basis for policy action.

In Microsoft’s view the goal of technology deployment and utilisation should always be the economic and social benefits (assessed in terms of both individual and aggregate outcomes) that accrue to citizens and to the nation. Technology is an enabler – a tool. It is not and should not be an end in itself. Campaigns that encourage the embrace of digital tools but measure the number of devices sold or services connected measure only the ‘potential’ for economic and social improvement and can thereby miss the point of human utilisation of technology. It is not whether we have the tools that matters but what we use them for and what we achieve by their use.

Information technologies can create new economic activity as well as increase the productive capacity of current processes and transactions. As the media sector now realise such changes can be tectonic. Equally the deployment of digital tools can incrementally adjust the way humans behave – reducing the cost of transactions or increasing the scope of a commercial market.

The way we engage, communicate and interact with one another will likewise be changed by the ubiquity of digital communication tools – a process we are already witnessing through the rise and rise of social networks. If, as claimed, digital communications can and will overcome – in part – the tyranny of distance then it is reasonable to contemplate a society that is more connected, transparent and engaged from country to city, from state to state, business to business, government to citizen. Physical interaction however is fundamental to our understanding and sense of being human and therefore whether digital services can bring about a ‘better society’ will be a long debate.

Microsoft congratulates the Government, the Minister and his Department for developing the National Digital Economy Strategy. Rightly the Minister has identified that success for Australia will require action by not only governments but industry, the ICT sector and non-government organisations.

The Strategy sets a real and pressing challenge for all Australians: to find and exploit every possible way to use digital technologies to expand our economic output (for the benefit of all) and to improve our social, environmental and human condition. Quite a challenge.

Simon Edwards, Director of Corporate Affairs