The SME sector is the backbone of the Irish economy. These small to medium enterprises account for 99.8% of the total number of businesses and 67.5% of all persons employed in Ireland. On April 22, Vodafone held an online roundtable on “Recovery and Resilience: Digitalisation of SMEs” to discuss the Irish SME sector, how the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility can help digitalise this vital sector, and why it provides an exciting opportunity for a stronger, more resilient, digital Europe.
Vodafone Business Marketing Director, Iris Meijer and Vodafone Ireland CEO, Anne O’Leary were joined by Irish and EU policymakers and industry stakeholders. There was an engaging discussion which touched upon a number of challenges faced by Irish SMEs. Some of the main points covered included digital adoption, skills and the importance of financing for SMEs so they can future proof their businesses.
In the context of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Irish SMEs lag behind their EU counterparts in their adoption and uptake of digital solutions. In this regard, the Irish RRF could drive productivity and digitalisation of all Irish SMEs, to ensure that no business is left behind.
Digital skills were also discussed, with a general agreement that the productivity gap in the digital reaction to the crisis, between larger firms and SMEs, was exacerbated by a lack of digital literacy and skills in smaller businesses. The RRF provides an exciting springboard to support digital skills development, through upskilling and reskilling, and to avoid a “two-speed digital economy”.
Another key factor for Irish SME digitalisation is access to finance. Funding constraints can hamper the often-rapid pace needed for SMEs to adopt new digital solutions and remain competitive against larger enterprises. In addition to smoothing out short term issues, the RRF should drive digitalisation through investment in infrastructure and the rollout of high-speed connectivity, especially in rural areas.
The roundtable provided an enriching discussion into identifying the problems faced by SMEs in Ireland who are aiming to revitalise their businesses, post pandemic. But, more importantly, the fruitful discussion highlighted the huge potential and solutions, such as digital upskilling, reskilling, and infrastructure - supported by the RRF - that will accelerate Ireland’s SMEs digitalisation and the creation of a robust digital future for all.
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