What is the digital economy?

The OECD Forum in Paris last week brought together a large number of people interested in economic and social questions, many from a digital viewpoint.
But I found myself wondering what exactly the ‘digital economy’ is. Luckily, the OECD publishes a biennial OECD Digital Economy Outlook, so I looked through the current (2015) version, to see what the OECD looks at when it describes the ‘digital economy’.

The areas where it looks for statistics or draws conclusions are:

– venture capital investment in internet-specific companies
– monthly semiconductor market billings
– trade in ICT goods (incl computer, electronic and optical products, software publishing, telecommunications) or (computers and peripherals, electronic components, communications equipment, consumer electronics, and miscellaneous.)
– also ICT manufacturing output
– trade in ICT services, ‘IT and other information services’ or ‘computer and information, communications’ or ict trade industries, software publishing, telecommunications, it and other information service’
– demand for ICT specialists
– communications markets, eg fixed telephone, broadband, mobile voice, mobile broadband
– global internet traffic
– numbers of companies having broadband and a website, e-commerce participation (online sales)
– business expenditure in R&D (BERD)
– ICT related patent applications
– About one quarter of ICT-related patents relate to one or more other technological
fields. The top 25 technological fields associated with ICTs in patent applications include
closely related technologies such as electrical machinery (14% of all ICT patents), as well as
distant technological fields that rely heavily on ICTs, such as medical technology (9%) and
biotechnology (7%)
– use by firms of enterprise resource planning or supply chain management software
– use of cloud computing by companies

Looking at how people use the internet: 2013/4 figures for the OECD area are:
– 87% of users sent emails
– 82% relied on web for info about goods and products
– 72% read news online
– 58% ordered products online
– 21% sold products online
Other uses mentioned are online education, e-government services, use of social media by government, offering open government data, smart phone use of geolocation services, mobile or online banking services, digital online content eg music and user-created content such as images and video, advertising (revenues are shifting to online – search, video and mobile), mobile health market (health monitoring, self-management, clinical support, central use of electronic health records), sharing platforms (eg airbnb and Uber), crowd sourcing for the creation of ideas, product development and marketing, crowd funding, and the internet of things.

Increasingly ICT is becoming an integral part of other things. The OECD list the top 25 combinations between ICT and other technologies in patent applications, 2010-12 (as % of all ICT related applications also belonging to other fields.) Here are the top 12:

1. electrical machinery
2. optics
3. medical technology
4. biotechnology
5. transport
6. audio-visual technology
7. surface and coating
8. handling and logistics
9. civil engineering
10. basic chemistry
11. chemical engineering
12. control

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