Singapore, China Shine in Global IT Index

Singapore—the island-state is the most ICT-savvy economy in Asia, according to a new report released today.

The country was ranked No. 4 on the Networked-Readiness Index (NRI) of the Global Information Technology Report 2008-2009 , the eighth produced by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in partnership with business school Insead. Last year, Singapore was fifth worldwide.

The index examines ICT effectiveness of economies based on three dimensions: business, regulatory and infrastructure environment for ICT; readiness of individuals, businesses and governments to benefit from ICT; and their actual usage of the latest technologies available. Through a combination of public data and executive perception surveys, a record 134 economies were reviewed this year.

In a repeat of last year, Denmark and Sweden were ranked first and second, respectively in the new index. The United States climbed up one spot to No. 3, while Switzerland fell two notches to fifth. Other Nordic countries—Finland, Iceland and Norway—also made it to the top 10, while the Netherlands and Canada took the last two spots.

Asia: More markets slip in rankings

In the case of Singapore, the strong focus on ICT, education and public-private partnership transformed the resource-lacking economy into a high-tech powerhouse within just a few decades, Irene Mia, senior economist and director at the World Economic Forum and co-editor of the Cisco-sponsored report, said in a briefing via Cisco's TelePresence technology.

"Singapore's prowess in the ICT readiness has much to do with its excellent market and regulatory environment, conducive to innovation and ICT advances, as well with the prominent and consistent role played by the government in setting a vision for ICT penetration and innovation-based development," she pointed out. "This is confirmed by the first and second positions Singapore got for the government readiness and usage, respectively.

Elsewhere across the region, several economies ascended the index. China made the most significant move up the index, occupying No. 46 compared to last year's No. 57.

At the same time, the world's most populous nation overtook India for the first time to lead the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economies, said Mia. China, she told ZDNet Asia, improved "very much" over the last year in terms of ICT readiness of its stakeholders. The Chinese government, for instance, has increased its focus on ICT, which has also been worked into political agendas. "This translates into better services and efficiency," she said.

On the other hand, the country also faced some weaknesses, in terms of a low penetration rate for broadband connectivity, given its mass, she noted. There appears also to be improvement needed on the regulatory front, such as protection of intellectual property, as well as in its business environment in terms of availability of venture capital.

Nonetheless, it was clear that "China is a country that has been progressing consistently" on the index, said Mia.

Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research, said in an e-mail that in 2008, the number of Internet users in urban areas of China grew 35.6 percent over 2007, while the online population in rural areas increased 60.8 percent year-on-year to reach 84.6 million. Last year, the country's total Internet population hit 298 million.

"This trend is likely to continue as the government is investing to ensure that broadband coverage is increasingly comprehensive outside of major cities," Rein noted, adding that the authorities are likely to focus on the western and central regions where broadband penetration is currently significantly lower.

Taiwan and Japan, both in the top 20, also climbed up several notches. Vietnam, ranked No. 73 last year, rose by three places to No. 70.

However, a number of Asian economies also slid in this year's rankings. Cambodia was the worst hit at No. 126, down 11 places from No. 115 in the last edition. Indonesia and Thailand both fell seven spots to No. 83 and No. 47, respectively.

According to WEF's Mia, Indonesia seemed to lag as it did not progress as much as other countries in terms of absolute scores, while Thailand's recent political turmoil may have affected business sentiment.

India dropped four notches to No. 54, while the Philippines fell by the same margin to No. 85. Malaysia and Korea dropped two positions each, to No. 28 and No. 11, respectively.

Brunei made its entry into the index at No. 63.

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