Pandemic is forcing SMEs to adopt technology, despite hurdles

The Covid-19 pandemic has increased demand for increased adoption and integration of digital technology among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). However, according to a World Economic Forum survey, they face many barriers to adopting the technology at a critical time.

While 97% of global businesses have accelerated technology adoption to weather the pandemic, according to Forbes, the WEF survey indicates that only 23% of SMEs have been able to devote resources to new digital tools.

SMEs continue to strive to comply with mandatory health and safety measures, threatening their ability to remain operational.

“Three years ago, the government of Brazil sounded the alarm on the urgent need to help support the modernization and competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises,” said Jeff Merritt, WEF’s head of urban transformation. “The Covid-19 pandemic has amplified these challenges, underscoring the need for collective action from the public and private sectors across the world. “

Lucas Camara, Executive Director of the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Brazil, adds: “It is essential for the global economy to better understand the impact of Covid-19 on SMEs. “

SMEs represent over 90% of all businesses worldwide and are the main drivers of social mobility, creating seven out of ten jobs.

Unfortunately, these companies are struggling to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution, endangering their own comparability in a global economy. The pandemic has further underscored the importance for businesses to be flexible and agile, yet these digital resilience tools are out of reach.

“The pandemic has made it clear to many SMEs that to remain relevant they need to adapt quickly to our new reality and adopt technology that will allow them to stay in business,” said Erez Zaionce, head of the Center for the Fourth Revolution. industrial, Colombia. .

The survey of 141 SMEs from six countries that are part of the World Economic Forum’s Fourth Industrial Revolution network – Azerbaijan, Brazil, Colombia, Kazakhstan, South Africa and Turkey – shows increased demand among SMEs to integrate digital technology in business operations, particularly related to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), cloud computing, big data and artificial intelligence (AI).

When asked about the different use cases, most SMEs expressed interest in deploying technology to optimize processes, ensure safety and security, facilitate quality management, and manage training and workforce collaboration. of work.

Given the low level of automation and digitalization among SMEs, the report suggests a disproportionate opportunity for SMEs and digital solution providers to collaborate.

Despite the growing interest in digital, only 23% of the SMEs surveyed said the changes brought about by the pandemic have led to the acceleration of their digitalization goals.

While some of that investment has been put on hold due to the economic impact of the pandemic, the survey points to the continued existence of barriers to wider adoption of the technology among SMEs.

This includes limited availability and access to financial resources, lack of skilled labor and infrastructure to support digitization.

Policy makers have an important role to play in reducing barriers, aligning incentives for different stakeholders and creating an enabling environment for wider adoption and deeper integration of digital technology among communities. SMEs.

This will not only save jobs, but also create new ones by raising awareness, supporting skills development, providing financial assistance and creating a collaborative environment to encourage wider adoption of the technology. .

“One of the priorities of the C4IR Kazakhstan leadership is the implementation of IoT in various sectors of the economy,” said Pavel Koktyshev, acting director of the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Kazakhstan. “The center has already forged partnerships with regional leaders and continues to work on the formation of a regulatory environment and a favorable ecosystem.

“These initiatives are effective across the country and provide great support for the recovery and sustainable development of SMEs after the pandemic.”

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