UAE global digital competitiveness rises in 2019: IMD Business School survey

Economy made advances in productivity, digital transformation and entrepreneurship

DUBAI,UAE - DECEMBER 10: A General view of Dubai Downtown at Sunset on December 10, 2016 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Rustam Azmi/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***  bz15ju-dubai-property.jpg
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The UAE climbed up the ranks in digital competitiveness globally this year, emerging as the key regional digital hub on the back of improvements in regulation for tech development and access to capital, according to the latest survey from IMD Business School.

The country jumped five notches to 12th place in IMD's World Digital Competitiveness ranking. In its peer group of countries across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the UAE rose to seventh place from 10th.

"The UAE improves in all digital factors to a different extent," Jose Caballero, senior economist at the research centre in Lausanne, told The National. "At the indicator level, the UAE performance is based on the availability of digital/technological skills, prioritisation of employee training, the ease of starting a business, protection of intellectual property rights, the effectiveness of the banking and financial services in terms of supporting businesses, communications technology and e-participation."

The country has prioritised the strategic goal of digital transformation, with Dubai's ambitions to turn into a smart city and Abu Dhabi's Ghadan 21 programme striving towards a knowledge-based economy. For the first time in May, the UAE was ranked among the top five competitive economies out of 63 countries ranked by the IMD World Competitiveness Rankings. The country now ranks first globally for business efficiency, as its economy made advances in productivity, digital transformation and entrepreneurship.

The third edition of the annual IMD digital report measures the capacity and readiness of countries to adopt and explore technologies as a major driver for economic transformation in business, government and society. It evaluates countries based on three factors: knowledge or the capacity to understand new technologies, technology or the competence to develop new digital innovations and future-readiness or level of preparation for upcoming developments.

The UAE rose in all three ranking criteria, indicating an improvement in its future readiness at 9th place from 12th, according to IMD.

The country topped the global ranking for improvements in immigration laws, international experience of its talent pool, technology regulatory framework, wireless broadband, use of big data and analytics and the agility of its businesses.

Mr Caballero said at the sub-factor level, the drivers behind the UAE's performance are training and education, regulatory framework, capital, technological framework, adaptive attitudes and IT integration.

To further improve its competitive edge, the UAE can focus on scientific pursuits in aspects related to research and development (R&D), Mr Caballero said. This includes increasing total expenditure on R&D as a percentage of gross domestic product, total R&D personnel per capita, and R&D productivity by scientific publication.

In terms of training and education, the UAE can target improvements in total public expenditure on education, higher education achievement, pupil-teacher ratio (tertiary education), and graduates in sciences, he said.

In terms of training and education, the Emirates can improve total public expenditure on education, higher education achievement, pupil-teacher ratio (tertiary education) and graduates in sciences, he said.

The UAE has issuedlong-term visas for entrepreneurs and investors to attract talent and boost the ease of doing business in the country. Long-term visas, which can be renewed automatically, were first announced in May last year. Foreign investors, scientists, entrepreneurs and the brightest students can now qualify for five and 10-year visas.

The country can be more future-ready by "striving to sustain the current levels of business agility and adopting or developing new technologies so as to strengthen the technological framework and IT integration trends," Mr Caballero said.

Saudi Arabia, the biggest Arab economy, advanced three places to 39th by improving companies' perceptions of regulatory support for tech adoption and availability of capital for investments. However, R&D intensity and e-government indicators declined.

Globally, the US retained its No 1 ranking as the most competitive digital economy.

Unchanged in the index among the top five were Singapore, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland.

"In the midst of uncertainty and a fluid global situation, it seems that business and societies that are agile correlate strongly with the IMD World Digital Competitiveness ranking," said Arturo Bris, director of the IMD World Competitiveness Centre. "Knowledge also remains of paramount importance for the digital performance of different economies."