Singapore leads in digital inclusion, Burma and Vietnam top improvers

01 March 2021 4 min. read

A new report from management consultancy Roland Berger has found Singapore to be the world’s most digitally inclusive nation, with Myanmar and Vietnam deemed the biggest recent improvers.

Singapore has again led the globe on Roland Berger’s ‘Digital Inclusion’ index, claiming first spot on the list ahead of Sweden, Denmark and Holland. Compiled by the management consultancy prior to recent political events, Myanmar was deemed the overall biggest improver, rising by eleven points since 2017 to 55th on the rankings, while Vietnam (44th) followed closely behind in gaining ten points over that time. Cambodia also featured among the top 10 biggest improvers.

To compile its index, Roland Berger assessed 52 indicators across four key levers of digital inclusion; accessibility and affordability, which together account for 70 percent of the weighted total, along with ability and attitude, the former of which is for example broken down into the further dimensions of education and participation and then split across nine indicators. Price, ownership, quality, infrastructure, and education are given the greatest values on the index.

Top countries for digital

Maintaining its top rank of 2017, Singapore improved its overall score to 86 of 100 with a relatively even spread of points awarded across each of the four levers. Backed by government programs and policies such as financial assistance schemes for digital skills training, Singapore improved its scores for accessibility, affordability and ability. The country’s attitude component however dipped, with the report citing internet scams and data security concerns as causing greater apprehension.

With both achieving large gains in the accessibility dimensions of quality, infrastructure and policy, Myanmar and Vietnam were over the past three years the two most-improved nations for digital inclusion. Having jumped 13 places in the rankings, Myanmar was specifically cited for impressive improvements in accessibility and attitude, yet with recent reports of government-blocked websites it’s unclear what longer-term impact the country’s political turmoil will have on digital inclusion.

Further along on its digital transformation journey, Vietnam meanwhile made gains for its government’s plans for Industry 4.0, foreign investments, and state-of-the-art 4G and 5G infrastructure – with its infrastructure and policy dimensions rising by 21 and 24 points each. The authors however note a slipping ability score, with calls for the nation to enhance digital literacy. Still, its improved overall score saw Vietnam jump ahead Indonesia, India and the Philippines.

Digital inclusiveness by region

From a regional perspective, Southeast Asia still trails the global average, ahead of only Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, brought down somewhat by affordability. In terms of attitude, Southeast Asia is behind only Europe and North America, and the region also performs above the global average for accessibility. Laos and Cambodia earned the lowest scores for the region, yet the latter was the eighth highest improver among the 82 countries assessed.

“Cambodia’s efforts to expand digital inclusion are gradually bearing fruit,” the Roland Berger report states. “The developing nation’s improvement in infrastructure and policy dimension scores were the main drivers behind its digital growth. It even conducted live trials of a 5G network in 2019, showing strong progress in infrastructure development. Moving forward, educating the population about digital skills and access will be key to improving inclusion.”

Yet, with digital inclusion considered as “the empowerment of individuals and societies to effectively use ICT,” and so then “contribute to and benefit from today’s digitalised economies and societies,” Southeast Asia as a whole is still lagging behind.

According to the firm, some 150 million adults in the region – or close to a third of the population – remain digitally excluded, with disability, illiteracy, age, poverty, and urban economic concentration among the factors given.