The Economist Intelligence Unit has released a global research project commissioned by Telstra, a leading telecommunications and technology company, which assesses the confidence of business executives in their city’s environment and its conduciveness to supporting the digital ambitions of companies.

The ‘Connecting Commerce’ report includes the first ever Digital Cities Barometer, a ranking of 45 cities around the world across five key categories relevant to business performance: innovation and entrepreneurship; the financial environment; people and skills; development of new technologies; and ICT infrastructure. Executives in two British cities were surveyed, with confidence amongst London executives significantly higher than those in Birmingham.

London is listed as the top European city for its financial environment, ranking seventh overall, ahead of Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong. It is the only European city in the top 10 for overall optimism as well as innovation and entrepreneurship, while also ranking fourth in the world for ICT infrastructure. In contrast, Birmingham ranked 32nd for its overall environment, and while it also ranks poorly for its supply of people with necessary digital skills, executives there are generally happy with the city’s educational system.

Tom Homer, Telstra’s Managing Director for EMEA, said the report makes an important contribution to exploring what support executives need to digitally transform their business and thrive in a connected world.

“Digital transformation can be a long and complex process. In most cases, existing internal resources will not be enough and businesses will need to look outside for additional support. Businesses will find most of that support in the city or cities where they operate, with the majority of business executives surveyed believing that when it comes to government policies, those implemented by local government have more influence on their organisation’s digital success than national policies,” said Mr Homer.

“London is renowned for the breadth of its innovation ecosystems, such as the dynamic Shoreditch community, and the confidence of local business executives reflects this vibrancy. Few cities have the advantages that London has as a major financial hub with rich sources of funding.”

Key findings from the research include:

– 58% of London-based executives rate the city’s educational institutions as effective at preparing students with the digital skills companies need, compared with 53% in Birmingham. However, the gap widens when it comes to educational institutions producing the volume of graduates needed, with 70% in London providing an effective rating compared with 47% in Birmingham.
– 83% of London-based executives believe the availability of open government data is important to their business, and 35% say it is ‘very important,’ while 56% say their businesses use such data frequently or periodically. A considerably smaller share of Birmingham respondents (50%) say open data is important to their firms, and only 37% use it at least periodically.
– The report also shows that 57% of executives in London believe that business associations and forums are one of the best ways to get support for digital initiatives, with almost half of this number (27%) in Birmingham citing the same.

Overall, the report found that business leaders are relatively confident that their city environments can provide the support they need to meet their digital ambitions.

The full report, including the Digital Cities Barometer, can be found at connectedfuture.economist.com.