SMEs are the backbone of the digital economy, yet they have been hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic and now risk losing out in the digital transition. Digitalisation can help SMEs expand, reach new customers, sell goods and services across the EU (and beyond), generate and analyse data to improve performance, and apply innovative solutions such as cloud computing and Artificial Intelligence. Yet, despite these opportunities, many European SMEs continue to lag behind larger firms in adoption.
In many countries, progress for small firms has stalled while large firms race ahead, driving inequalities and creating a digital adoption gap. The OECD argues that, for these small firms, the first step is the hardest. How, then, can the EU best equip small- and micro-businesses with the digital skills and the confidence to take the first step in adopting new technologies? What does the future look like for European small businesses?
Curious to know more about European SMEs and digital technology? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).
What do our readers think? Our reader Paul questions if going digital is really what we should be striving for. He asks:
Is the push to digital misguided? A lot of micro-businesses have nothing to export and therefore nothing to gain in advertising themselves internationally on the web. What use is it for a village corner shop to have a website?
We put Paul’s question to Dr Daniel Knapp and to Liza Belozerova. Dr. Daniel Knapp is the Chief Economist at IAB Europe, a European-level association for the digital marketing and advertising ecosystem. Liza Belozerova is Senior Manager at Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm, which combines funding, innovation, and technical expertise to support under-served communities and provide opportunities. We conducted the interviews at Google and Debating Europe’s event Bouncing Back, or a Crawl to Recovery? Supporting Europe’s SMBs – the kick-off event to Google.org’s Skills Week. What would Daniel Knapp and Liza Belozerova say to Paul? Check out their answers in the video below!
We had another comment from our reader Chicca who wonders if the pandemic really made SMEs go digital. She says:
Some people argue that the pandemic has pushed SMEs to go digital, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s anecdotal at best, but in my immediate area no small business has turned digital at all. The most they did was open a Facebook page to advertise their products, which they kept selling offline. Do you think the push to digital from the pandemic has been exaggerated?
For answer to Chicca’s question, we put her comment to Rob Retzlaff, the Chief of Staff and Director of Operations at Connected Commerce Council, a non-profit organization which promotes small businesses’ access to essential digital technologies and tools. For another perspective we also asked Finnish MEP Henna Virkkunen from the European People’s Party. She is a member of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy and the former Finnish minister for of Public Administration and Local Government. What would they say to Chicca? Check out their answers in the video above!
Lastly, our reader Laszlo wonders how we can make sure SMEs aren’t left behind by technology. He suggests:
Could some kind of mentorship program be part of a solution, or rather some continuous coaching or advising by some statutory organisation, chambers of commerce or something?
We took Laszlo’s comment to Siada E Ramly, the Director General of DOT Europe, an organisation that brings together the main internet companies in Europe and develops ideas and supports policy initiatives that foster an innovative, open and safe internet for Europe’s citizens and businesses. For another answer we also asked Paul Apostol, the Founder of Digital Nation, who are working to upgrade Romania’s tech potential through training people in digital fields and entrepreneurship. What would they say to Laszlo? Check out their answers in the video above!
On Tuesday 23 November, Friends of Europe is holding an online event on Entrepreneurship and skills for a fair, green and digital recovery with Alain Godard, Chief Executive at the European Investment Fund (EIF); Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, and Karen Massin, Head of EU Government Affairs and Public Policy at Google.
How can we make sure SMEs aren’t left behind by technology? What are the benefits of going digital for small local businesses? Could training and mentoring help SMEs to go digital? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!