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Digitalisation of traditional sectors

By Platform

COVID-19 has paved the way for accelerated digital transformation as businesses shift operations to cope with office closures, restricted movement, and supply interruption. Also for business from traditional sectors the digitalisation of operational processes has been a topic for a while, but has often not been applied for lack of justification of the internal change and the reluctance to disrupt existing ways of working. With the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, businesses have been confronted almost overnight with the closure of their offices and workshops and the collapse of their sales channels.

Digitalisation appears to be suddenly necessary to avoid the full collapse of the business operations. For this reason, the Policy Learning Platform organised an online meeting on 15 September to discuss the digitalisation of traditional sectors. 

While some months have passed since the first peak of the pandemic in Europe, most countries are now dealing with restarting the economy under constraints and remaining uncertainties. Fostering digitalisation, especially of traditional economic sectors, appears to be necessary in order to accelerate the economic recovery of those businesses, and providing them with new opportunities for growth such as online sales or internationalisation.

The aim of the discussion was to gather and present practices from participants to develop a portfolio of short-, mid- and long-term measures supporting the digitalisation of traditional sectors. Specific attention was brought to practices addressing e-commerce activities of businesses.

Digitalisation of traditional sectors

  • A staged support approach is necessary to address the digitalisation of traditional sectors, which often encompass a large amount of micro-enterprises with quite limited financial and human resources to be allocated to the digital transformation. The scope of support mechanism shall cover:

    • Low-barrier schemes enabling initial transformation steps. Those schemes can take the form of sensitisation (information events, workshops, technology demonstration) or small funding in order for businesses to be able to pay for external expertise or make small investments.
      Vouchers and free information sessions, including one to one consulting, are thereby popular schemes and suitable also for short-term support as required in the context of the Covid-19 crisis. The discussion focused on such schemes. The following good practices were presented in the discussion:
      • More complex schemes supporting ambitious digital transformation processes and investments, such as e.g. the development of innovative products in the framework of collaborative projects, or the integration of industry 4.0 technologies in all business processes.

  • On regional or national level, in addition to support schemes targeting directly businesses, it is of utmost importance to develop the conditions for businesses to thrive and be innovative. Higher education and research organisations, policy makers and business support organisations should work together to develop conditions enabling businesses to access skills, development and business partners. It is important to bring companies into the bigger ecosystem, and not to support digital transformation of individual companies.
  • Digital transformation shall not be considered as an aim at such, but as a tool to foster the competitiveness of businesses. Not only technology aspects come into play, also business models and business strategies need to be considered for an adequate support.

With respect to the Covid-19 pandemic, it can be said that the crisis accelerated the digitalisation of the economy but that those changes were already happening anyway.


  • It is crucial to provide fast and actionable support to traditional businesses, as some of those businesses lost a large part of their sale channels due to the Covid-19 crisis. There exist several examples of practices supporting e-commerce activities of businesses. The schemes presented made clear that the development of online sales channels can rapidly contribute to develop sales, both in the B2B and B2C sectors. Although very simple, tools such as app-based order placements can help businesses through the initial phase of the Covid-19 crisis. The following examples of good practices were presented in the discussion:

  • On the mid- to long-term it is necessary for businesses to develop and implement a clear online sales strategy, which shall include 'relationship building' (customer relationship, partnerships) through online mechanisms. This encompasses for instance the development of a specific international online marketing strategy or the participation in collective sector-based online platforms and marketplaces. Relevant practices can be found in the overview of good practices prepared at the occasion of the online discussion. Please note also that the Interreg Europe project Future Ecom - Exploiting digitisation to increase B2B e-commerce specifically addresses this topic.

In addition to the contributions of the participants, the Thematic Experts prepared an

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