How will this crisis affect the pace of digitalisation among small businesses? Does this change everything?
Digitalisation goes across all types of sectors and activities. And it is everywhere. Over recent years, we have been seeing digital transformation to different degrees in all areas and sectors, and the coronavirus is not going to change this, but it could have a dual effect (on digitalisation). On one hand, it will most likely accelerate adoptions, for example, in certain more traditional areas, where the public is more hesitant to use digital solutions or industrial remote applications. But at the same time, the problem is that this crisis may—and most likely will—delay the investment needed to develop digital solutions or to push digital transformation projects.
Small business are often called the lifeblood of the European economy. They represent 99% of all businesses in the EU. Small businesses also often rely on people coming through the door. Will some become digital as a result of the coronavirus crisis?
Now, the digitalisation for an SME also has to be in the context of what is the service they are offering. Some services are completely physical and need this interaction. Some services can be offered remotely and through digital channels. Probably during the crisis there is going to be a higher use of more digital channels. Users and customers are also going to be more accepting of these solutions, and more ready to adopt them. After the crisis…a digital seed will have been planted . Things that the consumers see as viable and useful are going to continue. Things that were only due to necessity will maybe scale back a bit.
So you think the crisis will push some small businesses to become digital, at least those that can?
Yes, it is an opportunity for everybody. And, opportunities are going to be explored. What can we be doing that we were not doing? Is there a different way in which we can be offering our product of which we haven’t thought? It will depend on what do you have and what do you need.
A big part of digitalisation is on the backend. This means digitalising your inventory, or connecting it with your supply chain, making things a bit more automated. But the backend is not something I see being pushed by the crisis. The crisis will have more of an impact on the front-facing interactions. Where there is an opportunity, companies will have to exploit it. Otherwise, things will not dramatically change.
Some people, if not exposed, are more at ease using traditional ways. Here is where the crisis can help the adoption because if you are forced to use some solutions that you disregarded before then you can be more open afterwards and you will use them.
Some might be a little pushed by the crisis and others are pushed by the need of increasing efficiency of your work, which I think is the biggest part of digitalisation. Increasing the efficiency of what and how you do it. And not only how you deliver it.
Can we look at it as an opportunity as well?
There will be opportunities enhanced by this crisis. Whether this will be sustained afterwards, it will depend on how good and efficient these solutions were, and if they were just an emergency measure or a valid option. It will have to be seen.
But as I said before, the seed will have been planted. More and more of these solutions will come in place. Maybe we will have a little bit of a reduction of their use just after the crisis because people will be eager to go out and do things as before. But eventually they will grow because they will have become known to people.