In a global reckoning of nations’ information and communications technology (ICT) strengths, Canada may well round out the top 10 of 104, but the country has fared better in previous years.

In fact, Canada slipped four spots, from sixth place to the 10th position, in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Information Technology Report 2004-2005.

Published earlier this month, the report ranks 104 economies and their positions by a network readiness index (NRI), which measures the degree to which a country can benefit from ICT investments. According to the report, the NRI depends on various factors like a country’s regulatory and legal framework for technological development, as well as how many citizens and businesses use ICT.

IT investments are generally considered a prime factor in global competitiveness: buy more technology, become more competitive, said Lawrence Surtees, a communications industry analyst at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto.

Corporate Canada is becoming aware of the link between IT investments and productivity improvements, especially as the nation’s rising dollar puts pressure on businesses to be as efficient as possible if they want to maintain healthy margins on goods sold to the U.S., our main trading partner. “That’s…the reason people are waking up” to the connection between IT and productivity, Surtees said.

“That being said, the majority of companies have yet to embrace technology, or significantly make the link” between IT and productivity, he said.

Bill St. Arnaud is senior director, advanced networks at the Canadian Network for Advanced Research, Industry and Education (CANARIE Inc.) in Ottawa. He said a few factors could stymie Canada’s technological advancement. For one thing, Canada doesn’t put as much money or effort into IT research projects as does the U.S. For another, new copyright laws could hinder distribution of intellectual property in this country.

“It is my personal belief that Canada is well positioned as one of the top ICT countries in the world,” St. Arnaud said. “But as with everything there is always room for improvement.”

Arnaud also said, “These studies all have to be taken with a big dose of salt.” While a tumble of four spots might seem drastic, sometimes just a few points separate the contenders. “Being ranked 10th or 20th…makes little significant difference.”

Canada won an NRI score of 1.27. Singapore, the ICT leader, scored 1.73. Chad, in last place, scored –1.69.

It’s the first time in the report’s four-year history that Singapore has taken first place. The WEF praised the Asian country for offering high-quality mathematics and science education, as well as affordable phone charges. The WEF also said Singapore’s government made smart investments in ICT equipment.

The U.S. fell to number five. Last year the country was in first place. According to a WEF statement, “the loss in rank is less due to actual erosion in performance…and more to continuing improvements by its competitors.”

Find out more about the Global Information Technology Report at the WEF’s Web site, www.weforum.org.

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