A computer-savvy New Zealand could increase workforce productivity by $1.7 billion per year, according to a new report.

The New Zealand Computer Society Inc (NZCS) report released today shows improved digital literacy could benefit the economy and help marginalised social groups.

The report said that adopting a digital literacy standard would heighten productivity in about 70 per cent of employees at work by 20 minutes a day, or 1.7 hours a week, resulting in an annual $1820 productivity gain per employee.

The report, completed by research consultants Knowledge Weavers NZ, addressed international research and case studies and applied them to New Zealand to find the expected outcome of adopting similar programmes.

"It was interesting to find that there was also a gain in productivity amongst those very familiar with the use of computers," NZCS chief executive Paul Matthews said.

"It's a case of people not knowing what they don't know - the gaps in knowledge and skills, large and small, making a clear difference to workplace and community productivity.

"This research is ground breaking. Not just because of the size of the productivity gap digital literacy can fill, but the clear line drawn between actual results achieved in various studies around the world and what is achievable in New Zealand.

"This isn't pie in the sky stuff - this is real results and a real outcome to move New Zealand forward."

The report also stated being technologically competent was an essential life skill and right of every New Zealander.

It would benefit marginalised groups build confidence, overcome isolation, improve employment opportunities, and lead to further learning.

The International Computer Driving Licence was recommended as the most appropriate digital literacy standard.

Mr Matthews said the program was used in 148 countries around the world and with over nine million participants had helped more people than every other recognised international literacy standard program combined.

"It's really about putting out a benchmark in place for New Zealanders across the board. You are not just talking about the workforce, you are not just talking about communities or schools," he said.

"Fundamentally, the purpose of bringing it in is to grow a line in the standards and say 'well this is what as a country ... we believe is the minimum acceptable level for somebody working with computers or IT'."

The report said the Government's digital strategy received credit for focusing on the education environment and communities lacking digital skills, but more needed to be done.

"If we want to see real benefits as a country, we need to expand the focus to cover right across the board," Mr Matthews said.

The report suggests:

* The Government take a leadership role in implementing digital literacy initiatives, starting with expanding its digital strategy to include all New Zealanders;

* adopt an international digital standard and promote it strongly within the public sector;

* set digital standard targets; and encourage support programs to look at digital competence.

The findings also suggest NZCS, a non-profit charitable organisation, alongside other organisations, should promote and deliver digital literacy programs.

NZCS planned to present the findings to the Government later this month and implement programs that would "help make a difference," Mr Matthews said.

- NZPA