Digital Leaders Blog

Teaching Digital Leadership to the Digital Leaders

Ok I know that leadership cannot be ‘taught’, but this Spring I will be 'facilitating' Digital Leadership programmes in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Edinburgh, Glasgow and online in virtual learning land.

With over 30 different nationalities participating across the various locations, it is critical that a global perspective is adopted.

So what progress have different countries around the world made in transforming digitally?

The Most Tech-Savvy Governments

Two of the destinations being visited, the UAE and Bahrain, are listed in the top three countries worldwide in terms of having the ‘most tech-savvy’ governments, according to the World Economic Forum’s Network Readiness Index (see here for a short summary).

In pole position is Singapore, a country I have long admired since my many visits there between 1993 and 1996 as Academic Direct of the Strathclyde Business School Masters in International Marketing programme delivered on a Distance Learning basis. Course management and administration was delivered through a combination of fax, telephone and courier delivery of course material. If only we had ubiquitous Internet access then :-)

The UK sits in tenth position lower than countries such as Qatar, Malaysia, Estonia and others.

Figure 1: Most Tech-Savvy Governments

With recent announcements over the last week or so, it is almost certain that Singapore and the UAE will retain their digital leadership positions for the foreseeable future.

Singapore puts 2017 budget focus on digital transformation - Government sets aside S$2.4 billion over four years to execute a nationwide plan to "transform" the local economy and help enterprises "go digital".

Sheikh Mohammed directs government departments to place Dubai 10 years ahead of all other cities with launch of the 10X vision. "All Government entities to embrace out-of-the-box, future oriented exponential thinking with the aim of being 10 years ahead of all other cities in embracing disruptive innovation".

 Harnessing Digital

While it looks as if I may be “teaching” digital leadership to those who are already leading digital, at least as far as the government sector is concerned, a different picture emerges for the economy as a whole.

The countries best harnessing the full potential of digital technology according to WEF are listed below. Dubai and Bahrain are ranked only in 26th and 28th positon respectively. Singapore retains its No.1 spot.

Figure 2: Top 10 Countries Harnessing Digital Technology

As a measure of how well an economy is using information and communications technologies to boost competitiveness and well-being, it will be very interesting to watch the position of Dubai, in particular, over the next few years.

In a previous blog post, we showed how Dubai is rapidly emerging as a world class digital nation. Key milestones over the last five years have included:

  • 2011 - introduction of e-payment cards for government services
  • 2011 - e-voting introduced
  • 2013 - all government services to be available through mobile devices and apps
  • 2013 - Smart Government launched – aim to become the world’s smartest city
  • 2014 - Happiness Index launched to measure the happiness and satisfaction of the public with digital public services – aim to be the world’s happiest city
  • Feb 2016 - 1,000 new digital initiatives launched to embrace the Internet of Things
  • May 2016 - world’s first 3D printed office block opened - vision of being a world leader in 3D printing technology
  • April 2016 - 25% of all transportation in Dubai to be smart and driverless by 2030
  • October 2016 - Dubai mandates Blockchain only Government documents by 2020
  • May 2016 - Dubai government services score 89% on the Happiness Index
  • Nov 2016 – become a world leader in Industry 4.0

Add to this, the 10X initiative mentioned above.

The UK/Scotland

In the UK/Scotland, we like to think of ourselves as being a world class digital nation. For example, the preamble to this month’s launch of the UK Government’s Transformation Strategy stated:

“The UK Government is one of the most digitally advanced in the world…….The Government Digital Service (GDS) has led the digital transformation of government and is a model that is being copied internationally”.

The evidence presented above would suggest that while good progress has been made, we are far from being a world class digital nation. It is too early to engage in such happy back-slapping.

There is growing evidence that the UK is falling behind many of our international competitors in several key measures of digital readiness such as connectivity, digital skills and the integration of digital technology – see the EU 2016 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI). While the UK score remains above the EU average, it is growing more slowly than the average. Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland are leading the way, while Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands, Malta, Austria and Portugal are the fastest growing.

An earlier 2015 study published in the Harvard Business Review arrived at a similar conclusion - Where the Digital Economy Is Moving the Fastest.

The study identified four main types of country in terms of digital capacity:

  • Stand Out countries with high levels of digital development in the past and who continue to remain on an upward trajectory.
  • Stall Out countries who have achieved a high level of evolution in the past but are losing momentum and risk falling behind.
  • Break Out countries with the potential to develop strong digital economies. Though their overall score is still low, they are moving upward and are poised to become Stand Out countries in the future.
  • Watch Out countries who face significant opportunities and challenges, with low scores on both current level and upward motion of their Digital Evolution Index. Some may be able to overcome limitations with clever innovations and stopgap measures, while others seem to be stuck.

 Figure 3: The Digital Evolution Index

In the UK, there is a real danger that our growing obsession with BITs (Brexit, Immigration and Trump) rather than Bytes will drive the UK into a digital ‘Stall Out’ – see our previous blog post Don’t Let Brexit Relegate Digital to Side Show Status.

One of the main conclusions of the Harvard paper is highly relevant here:

“Most Western and Northern European countries, Australia, and Japan have been Stalling Out. The only way they can jump-start their recovery is to follow what Stand Out countries do best: redouble on innovation and continue to seek markets beyond domestic borders. Stall Out countries are also aging. Attracting talented, young immigrants can help revive innovation quickly”.

Unfortunately, we are going completely in the opposite direction.

Food for thought?

All comments and feedback welcome.

Take care.

Jim H

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