Measuring the digital maturity of nations

The skyline of New Zealand’s most populous city, Auckland

By Anand Eswaran, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Digital

If you had to name the most digitally advanced nations in the world, which would you guess? You might be surprised to discover that the United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Korea, Israel and Estonia are all members of a network of digitally advanced nations called the D5 (Digital Five), who are leading the world when it comes to the most digitally advanced societies and governments. But what makes a digital society truly “smart”?

Anand Eswaran, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Digital

The challenge is that there is no recognizable international standard. Without a standard, how would anyone know which countries were meeting their goals of growing digitally? How could you possibly say the U.K. was gaining on South Korea in digital capabilities (or vice-versa) with any certainty? Would it make more sense to create digital resources for Namibia? Or Paraguay?

In 2017, Microsoft joined up with the chair of the D5, New Zealand, and the Fletcher School, a graduate school of international affairs at Tufts University, because we have bold ambitions to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Microsoft, along with the advanced digital nations of the D5, want to understand the answers to the big questions:

  • What are smart societies and what are their core components?
  • Are there countries that might offer realistic models for such societies?
  • Are there patterns of different approaches to “smartness”?
  • What are the implications for policymakers, particularly as they consider digital technology – whose applications are growing at an accelerated pace – as a lever for getting to smartness?

The Fletcher School is pulling together over 17 internationally comprehensive data sources from the D5, along with the Digital Evolution Index from the Digital Planet 2017 Report, a benchmark that analyzes over 240 different digital indicators. These indicators will help us understand how digital is improving citizens’ well-being, supporting a strong economy and building effective institutions. This work will result in a rigorously tested and revised benchmark that will help truly measure the digital maturity of a nation.

Helping countries chart their digital journey

Of course, our partnership with the D5 nations is not new. For years, Microsoft has been working on projects within our partner D5 nations that have helped accelerate their local and national governments along the path to digital transformation.

  • We worked with Estonia, a small country formed from the breakup of the Soviet Union, to ensure digital continuity for its government services so that it could begin with a clean slate in the post-Soviet era. Today, Estonia’s government uses paper in less than 5 percent of all their transactions by migrating their data to the cloud.
  • In Israel, we are working with partners L&T Technology Services, a global engineering services firm, in building the smartest green campus in the world.
  • At Gunsan Elementary School in Jeonju, South Korea, we are working to build the country’s next generation of digital natives by helping teachers connect with students and parents through Yammer.
  • In Somerset County Council in the U.K., we’re helping the local government improve access to its records with Azure technologies that support file and system backups at least three weeks faster than before – and at a much lower cost.
  • And in New Zealand, we’re helping the City of Auckland handle incredible growth and achieve its goal of becoming the world’s most livable city by improving its transportation infrastructure with intelligent intersections and by providing residents with access to real-time data through IoT-connected transport nodes, traffic lights and bus stops.

Become “boundary-less” in your digital culture. Create a data strategy. Get ahead with micro-revolutions.

With every country’s digital transformation, we’ve learned new lessons. But as it has become clear, you must get a few things right when starting a digital transformation: Have a culture that lets you work “boundary-less” across silos; create a data strategy that ties together all your data sources to achieve a goal; and pilot solutions quickly so you can stay ahead of micro-revolutions that are changing the digital world every 12 to 18 months.

This work with the Fletcher School and the D5 has required our partners and us to become “boundary-less” in our information, even across organizations. Governments and industry have had to build trust and share some sensitive information. That information had to be collected, cleaned and analyzed to form the basis for understanding, which is ultimately what the digital benchmark is: a way of collecting our data into a framework to understand the maturity of digital nations.

From here, we can help government CIOs and policymakers construct a more comprehensive data strategy for themselves, their partners and their constituents. By having an informed data strategy, countries will be in a better position to get ahead of micro-revolutions, before they are consumed by them.

Microsoft is proud of the work we’re doing with these governments and academic partners. There are some days when you can truly feel you’re helping every organization and person in the world achieve more.

Learn more about “smart societies” at the Harvard Business Review.


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