Go Digital: helping small and medium-sized enterprises "go digital"
To help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) take full advantage of the advent of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and electronic commerce in particular.
Commission Communication of 13 March 2001. Helping SMEs to "Go Digital"
[COM(2001) 136 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
On 19 and 20 June 2000, the Heads of State and Government adopted the eEurope 2002 action plan at the European Council meeting in Feira (this action plan has now been superseded by the eEurope 2005 action plan). One of the objectives of the action plan is to stimulate the use of the Internet by helping SMEs in particular to go digital.
In response to the eEurope 2002 action plan, the European Commission is drawing up GoDigital, a package of initiatives aimed at helping SMEs go digital. It also identifies their needs in the field of electronic commerce. The GoDigital initiatives aim to:
- identify the obstacles encountered by SMEs;
- propose specific actions to help SMEs;
- coordinate and ensure consistency among the various actions carried out at the Community, national, regional and local levels;
- learn from best practices and carry out an evaluation.
Electronic commerce is of particular importance for SMEs, since it helps remove some of the obstacles barring access to markets. However, only some SMEs (42% in 2000) have access to the Internet and only a few (20% in 2000) use it for the purpose of electronic commerce. Amongst the numerous obstacles preventing them from adopting the new information technologies, attention should be drawn to national regulations which are often unsuitable, non-harmonised standards and technologies, a serious lack of staff (in SMEs) with sufficient skills and, finally, the fact that access to new information and communication technologies is often too costly for SMEs.
The GoDigital initiatives aim first of all to make optimum use at Community level of the programmes which have financed them, such as the multiannual "Information Society Technologies" programme in the 5th framework programme for research and technological development (1998-2002), or which currently finance them in the 6th framework programme. They should also back up action taken by the business community and national and regional authorities. Coordination mechanisms have also been set up with the Member States, with the specific aim of encouraging the benchmarking of national and regional public policies to promote electronic commerce.
The objective of the initiatives is to help SMEs get involved in electronic commerce. To achieve this aim, the Commission is assisted by the Euro Info Centres network (see the list of EIC addresses in Europe) which encourages the adoption of electronic commerce by SMEs, by national policies to promote new information technologies and electronic commerce which have undergone evaluation, and by the exchange of best practices. Finally, various projects have been launched since the implementation of Go Digital.
The initiatives should allow SMEs to create an environment which is conducive to the development of electronic commerce and entrepreneurship, benefit from the results of the research and technological development programmes, and put them in the position to use these results and develop ICT skills. To achieve this, the initiative has been assigned general objectives for 2001 and various action lines and actions have been identified for 2001 and 2002.
The GoDigital initiative is organised around three action lines and a number of actions which fall within one of these action lines. Action line 1 on a favourable environment for electronic commerce and entrepreneurship contains the following actions:
- Action 1: Benchmarking of national and regional strategies in support of e-commerce
- Action 2: Measuring of take-up of ICT and e-commerce
- Action 3: Improving access to information and collecting feedback for policy-making purposes in the area of electronic commerce legislation
- Action 4: Electronic commerce interoperability
Action line 2, concerning the take-up of electronic commerce, is organised around the following actions:
- Action 5: Promoting awareness of going digital
- Action 6: Electronic commerce take-up
- Action 7: Provision of a loan guarantee facility for SMEs
- Action 8: Promoting better use of the Structural Funds
Action line 3 on ICT skills covers the following actions:
- Action 9: Supporting industry-led initiatives for new ICT curricula
- Action 10: Creating an ICT Skills Monitoring Group in the Member States
- Action 11: Launching an SME trainee programme
In order to help SMEs make the most of the advent of ICT, the Commission has put together a number of initiatives, such as:
- A group made up of representatives from the European Commission and the Member States has been set up to analyse the demand for ICT and e-commerce skills.
- The Commission has set up a system to monitor how SMEs are adapting to electronic commerce through the publication of a number of quantitative indicators.
- An Internet portal has been set up on legal information concerning electronic commerce. It provides on-line services and an overview of relevant legislation and self-regulatory initiatives.
- The launch of an e-commerce awareness campaign which covers over 70 events in Europe.
It should also be pointed out that over 60 projects have received support under the Information Society Technologies programme.
4) IMPLEMENTING MEASURE
Communication from the European Commission of 27 March 2003 - Adapting e-business policies in a changing environment: the lessons of the GoDigital initiative and the challenges ahead [COM(2003) 148 final - not published in the Official Journal].
Following the launch of the "GoDigital" initiative in 2001, this communication reviews growth in the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) and e-business tools by European business, above all by SMEs, and the future policy challenges that emerge from this picture.
The basic ICT infrastructure in businesses and access to the Internet are no longer considered a major problem. It is the differences in the quality of access which are particularly worrying. SMEs, for example, are less well equipped than large enterprises (analogue modem connections rather than fixed network connections) and there are also palpable differences between the majority of the Member States and the southern Member States, which lag behind in this area.
With significant progress having been made in Internet access by businesses, this in itself is no longer the main challenge, but rather the effective integration of ICT into business processes. In future, therefore, the focus will be to develop the activities of enterprises in the field of buying and selling over the Internet and the productive use of ICT, as these are the areas in which major shortcomings can be identified.
In order to promote e-business in enterprises, the Commission recommends specific actions in the following areas:
- improving managerial understanding and workforce skills for e-business;
- integrating e-business tools into business processes (for example: exploiting the results of research on ICT or promoting interoperability through test beds);
- enhancing the participation of SMEs in e-business networks.
On a more general level, there are three objectives which should be pursued in promoting e-business in European enterprises:
- a review of the quantitative targets related to ICT and e-business to make them more specific;
- an assessment of the actions against clear quantitative or qualitative targets by Member States;
- bringing together European initiatives in a European e-business support network for SMEs, and the better exchange of experience among Member States and regions.
European Commission Report of 13 May 2002. Go Digital Progress Report [SEC(2002) 566 - Not published in the Official Journal].
The general conclusions indicate that the efforts undertaken in most areas of Go Digital have been encouraging. Promising results have been achieved with respect to the promotion of the use of e-business by SMEs, although there is still a need to press on with the objectives of the action lines. A communication from the European Commission on the achievements of Go Digital was to be presented to the Industry Council in May 2003. This would examine the results of the initiatives and the policy guidelines to be adopted in this field.