On Wednesday 10 November 2021 from 14:00 to 17:00 (CET), the Policy Learning Platform organised an online workshop on the SMEs digital transition. This workshop was part of the online workshop series on Industry 4.0 and the SMEs digital transition.
Allowing for networking opportunities during breaks, the event was organised around three distinct sessions: a panel discussion with keynote speakers, thematic working groups learning from good practices, and a plenary session to share the outcomes from the groups.
Workshop agenda overview
Navigate to the discussion topics of interest in the webinar agenda overview below.
Moderation and concept by: Luc Schmerber and Mart Veliste, Thematic Experts of SMEs competitiveness.
- 4.0 Ready)
- Helena Deane, WDC WREP, ex-Project Executive at WestBIC Business and Innovation Centre, Galway County (Ireland), (TRINNO)
- Future Ecom)
- Jose Manuel San Emeterio, ERNACTEuropean Regions Network for the Application of Communications Technology (Ireland) (DEVISE)
Key insights from the workshop
The digital transformation of SMEs – challenges and opportunities
Bernhard Kölmel (Professor Global Process Management at Pforzheim University / SME 4.0 Competence Center Stuttgart, Germany) provided an overview of the strategic transformation challenges induced by the digital transition for businesses and business support ecosystems. He highlighted the complexity brought by the combination of the convergence of multiple new technologies and the speed of innovation, as illustrated by the exponential growth of business bringing disruptive approaches to the market. SMEs and their support environment need to integrate in their strategy the necessity of ongoing change: A company’s/stakeholder’s/region’s capacity for change must be at least as high as the rate of change of the market.
Future-proof approaches shall therefore not concentrate on technologies but have a broader view on new business fields, customer benefits and business models enabled by digital technologies. Bernhard also described the increasing weight of platform economy models, which are increasingly impacting most of the industrial sectors. Finally, he provided an overview of the new Digital Europe programme.
Smart societies Trøndelag: How interregional cooperation boosts the digitalisation of a rural area
Eistein Guldseth (Trøndelag County Council, Norway) - (SKILLS+, DigiBEST) - gave a striking diagnostic on the necessity for regional developers to address the digital transition of local businesses, in close connection to the green transition. He also covered the existing gaps in the Trøndelag County, such as the low digital maturity of a majority of the small-/micro businesses, which are expected to struggle with new digital technology needed to create sustainable new products/services or compete with more advanced businesses on future requirements from governments and clients. Also, the green transition will require higher digital skills in order to innovate and create new business-models. And in rural areas it is more difficult for companies to recruit digitally qualified employed, unlike in urban communities.
Secondly, he explained the approach of Trøndelag County Council to the ‘twin (digital and green) transitions’ of the economy in the framework of the Industry 4.0 Trøndelag policy, putting the digital transformation to the core of regional economic development.
Eistein emphasized among other points the necessity to build strong networks and ecosystems and the need for promoters/support organisation able to maintain a close and trustful relationship with the high number of very small businesses, so as to be able to engage them in the digital transformation.
Implementation of digital training programmes and assistance for the implementation of digital solutions
Gorka Diez (Spain) - (DEVISE)- presented the specific approach in the city of San Sebastian to foster the digital transition in traditional service sectors such as retail and hospitality, which represent a large part of the economic activity and employment in the urban are of San Sebastian. Those sectors were also particularly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, which disrupted their normal activity and cut sales as well as relationship with their clients. There is an obvious need to step up the pace of their digital transformation in order to maintain their competitiveness or even survival.
A set of complementary programmes, including awareness and digital training, technology consultancy, vouchers and a marketplace were elaborated by Gorka to address the needs of the companies in the retail and hospitality sectors.
Kickstarting the digital transformation of businesses
The first thematic session was dedicated to the topic of fostering the initial steps of SMEs on their way towards higher digital maturity. The discussion developed around three good practices: Smart Latvia & Digital Maturity Test (DigiBEST), presented by Māra Jākobsone, Vice-president of the Latvian Information and communications and technology association (LIKTA); Focus Digital (Future Ecom), presented by Tess Lukehurst from Coventry University Enterprises Ltd (United Kingdom); and PID – Punto Impresa Digitale (Digital Business Points) (FOUNDATION), presented by Claudia Bartoli, Head of Department for Companies Promotion and Development Services at Chamber of commerce - Reggio Emilia (Italy).
Jose Manuel San Emeterio from ERNACT-European Regions Network for the Application of Communications Technology (DEVISE) acted as discussant and helped us with the discussion. What have we learned?
- A key challenge for policy makers and business support providers is how to engage with the SMEs, especially the ones with a low digital maturity, and convince them to act on the digital transformation. In many regions this is not so much a matter of resources, as policies and support programmes are already in place, but a matter of making them accessible and attractive to the companies targeted.
- Complementary programmes combining collective approaches – for instance through sectoral business associations, local support organisations, using role models and company visits – with individualised support are necessary.
- Assessing the digital maturity of businesses in the early stage of support is important in order to be able to provide suitable recommendations and support. Digital maturity self-assessment tools can help raising the awareness for the need of changes in businesses.
- The willingness of a company to change is very much depending on the vision of the owner or manager. Several factors, such as the lack of time or the reluctance to change running business models negatively affect the readiness to to engage in digital transition. Money can be an issue but is often not the most important one.
- The practices highlighted showed that a combination of strategic advice and practical implementation is helpful to maintain the engagement of the supported businesses.
Improving digital skills of businesses
The second thematic session addressed the issue of digital skills in SMEs. The discussion developed around two good practices: Digital Pro Bootcamps (DigiBEST), presented by Erich Herber FFG from Österreichische Forschungsförderungsgesellschaft mbH (Austria), and Training Voucher for Managers and Entrepreneurs (4.0 Ready), presented by Miriana Bucalossi from Tuscany Regional Authority (Italy).
Helena Deane, WDC WREP, ex-Project Executive at WestBIC Business and Innovation Centre, Galway County (Ireland), (TRINNO) acted as discussant and helped us with the discussion. What have we learned?
- The two cases illustrate that there is a need of variety of interventions – deep and enriching bootcamp with more complex structure for a small group of SMEs that also facilitates peer learning and technology transfer between science and business and/or a more direct concrete method to training individuals through vouchers. There is no one size fits all answer the digital skills gap.
- Engaging with people on the right level and timing is crucial. It is a lot about managing expectations and adapting to the speed at which technology is developing. There is a risk that provision of training can lag behind the state of the art.
- To identify new needs for training also implies a train-the-trainer approach. Public authorities, programme managers, training providers and business associations need to remain in constant contact to monitor the skills needed.
- It is not enough to talk about digital skills, which might bias the discussion towards technology aspects. The challenges of the digital (and green) transitions are very much strategic ones and need to be addressed in terms of new business models, new ways of working within and outside the companies. It is therefore essential to be able to engage business owners and managers.
- As for the kickstarting practices, combing training offers with concrete projects in the companies increases significantly the take up of new skills.
In addition to the insights provided in the workshop, the Interreg Europe Policy Learning Platform can help you address any policy challenges. Through matchmaking sessions and peer reviews we can provide you with experiences and in-depth knowledge from other regions that have successfully found solutions for the challenges you are experiencing.
Curious about how these services work? Visit our expert support webpage and contact us.
Policy Learning Platform resources
- Policy Brief: “
- Policy Brief: “
- Policy Brief: “
- Story: “In search of new products, new markets or innovative ideas?”
- Story: “Fostering market uptake for innovative digital products and services”
- Story: “Smart societies: interregional cooperation boosts digitalisation in rural areas”
- Online Workshop: “Industry 4.0 and the SMEs digital transition: Episode 1”
- Online workshop: “Scaling up European SMEs”