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Digital Transformation of European SMEs Requires Greater Multi-stakeholder Cooperation & Access to Digital Skills


04 Feb 2022


Innovation & Enterprise

The third EURACTIV-GIGAEurope Digital Debate Series event outlines measures to help future-proof SMEs

Brussels - 3 February 2022: In order to achieve the EU’s ambitious Digital Decade targets, it is crucial SMEs are equipped with adequate digital skills, access to technology, and a supportive policy environment. These were the topics of discussion at GIGAEurope and EurActiv’s latest digital debate. 

The pandemic prompted an acceleration of digitalisation, which has enabled SMEs to improve productivity and lower operation costs. Yet, there remains uncertainty around precisely which tools are best suited for SMEs, and not all businesses have fully embraced digitalisation.  The most successful SMEs have reinvented their business models as they adapt to changing market ecosystems. Director, Strategy & Economic Analysis, DG GROW, European Commission, Outi Slotboom remarked “There is among the SME community in the EU a very clear divide. We see in our statistics that digital SMEs even increased their sales and employment during the pandemic, while the others saw their sales and employment decline.”

Bridging the digital divide among SMEs requires policies that stimulate cohesion, conversion, and inclusion. MEP Josianne Cutajar, Member ITRE Committee, Shadow Rapporteur “A new strategy for European SMEs,” and Shadow Rapporteur "2030 Policy Programme 'Path to the Digital Decade” emphasised the importance of collaboration. She stated “[SMEs] who have digitalised could help those SMEs who haven't digitalised and haven't yet realised what potential digital technologies has for their business. Digital innovation hubs serve as important example of a cluster approach which brings everyone together. We really need these collaborations and to have everyone on board.”

It is now increasing apparent that successful digital transformations require a shift in mindset at an organisational level. The Secretary-General of European DIGITAL SME Alliance, Sebastiano Toffaletti stressed that “there is a misconception that the digitalisation of SMEs is about adopting the use of digital tools, like on-line meetings. I believe we should support SMEs to embrace the future and help them to reinvent their business models in order to generate value through digital technologies. We must help SMEs to actively participate in the 4th Industrial Revolution.”

It is equally important to note that future-proofing a business requires access to a digital talent pool. As Sjoerd Hauptmeijer, CEO & Founder of The Young Digitals stated, “The Young Digitals support Europe's digital transformation by unlocking the potential of young people with a distance to the labour market. We must enlarge the number of digitally skilled personal and can do so by creating a more inclusive economy and unlocking the potential of all people. This ambition can be realised if policymakers and entrepreneurs combine their efforts.”

All panellists agreed that keeping European SMEs competitive and meeting the 2030 Digital Decade targets requires a collaborative approach among governments, technology providers, and SMEs. Vodafone Business Director for EU Cluster and Enterprise Americas & Asia Pacific, Murielle Lorilloux, said, “Digitalised SMEs have on average 26% higher revenues compared to non-digitalised ones. A collaborative approach is needed with Government’s, technology providers and SMEs working together to design policies and packages that meet their needs.”

Recognising the importance of a supportive regulatory environment, policy support should reflect the reality that there is no single solution, as SMEs operate in a wide variety of industries and are currently in different stages of maturity.
The panel was moderated by Brian Maguire, EURACTIV Journalist.