How to support businesses in the digital age – SMEs go digital

By the EESC's Employers' Group

Lack of awareness, underdeveloped infrastructure, high investment costs as well as skills shortages and mismatches – these are some of the challenges that SMEs are facing when trying to benefit from the digital revolution. The participants of the conference How to support businesses in the digital age – SMEs go digital tried to identify potential obstacles and propose solutions to address them in the future. The event took place on 24 October 2018 in Vienna, Austria.

"We cannot deny the digital transformation, we have to make sure all our companies can take advantage of this process," said Ulrike Rabmer-Koller, Vice-President of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber and President of the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME) in her opening speech. She explained that UEAPME was gathering best practices on digitalisation of SMEs in the EU in order to provide sufficient information to businesses.

Jacek Krawczyk, President of the Employers' Group, highlighted that digitalisation was more and more necessary for SMEs. Half of SMEs see digitalisation as an opportunity to expand their product and service portfolio. The same proportion believe digitalisation supports new business models. For 79% of SMEs, digitalisation allows product optimisation.

While SMEs see ongoing changes related to digitalisation, many of them still cannot identify what kind of opportunities it brings in their specific case. The rapid pace of the digital revolution creates enormous potential for improvement in all sectors of economic activity, i.e. in crafts and transport.

Further simplification of electronic interaction between businesses as well as between the public service and businesses would also be beneficial. In that context, the representative of the European Commission outlined the potential of the eIDAS regulation (Trust Services and Electronic identification) for SMEs.

Lack of digital skills is another factor hampering digitalisation of SMEs. The dual education model – which is well developed in Austria – could be part of the solution to that issue. By identifying new professions linked to digitalisation and by creating adequate apprenticeship programmes, businesses and schools can help to adjust curriculums to the market's needs.

The conference was co-organised by the Employers' Group of the European Economic and Social Committee and the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber. (lj)