Brussels, 25 March 2021
EaP CSF COVID-19 Policy Paper on SMEs digital transformation in COVID-19 times
Leveraging digital tools to survive in pandemics and remain in business afterwards has become essential for SMEs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenges are greater in the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries, where available government resources to help small businesses are limited. This policy paper assesses the impact of the pandemic on the digitalisation of SMEs in the EaP countries and reflects on the state of achievement of the EaP deliverables for 2020.
COVID-19 has become a catalyst for the digital transformation of SMEs. Businesses have embraced digitally enabled tools to reduce face-to-face communication and protect the health of customers and employees. Without a comprehensive strategy that will encourage and help SMEs to adopt digital technologies in a more consistent way, the economic recovery will not be sustainable. Hence, the policy paper provides a set of recommendations for SMEs, EaP governments, and EU officials to embrace sustained and effective digital transformation.
To support SMEs in the current crisis, EaP governments should improve the digital literacy of the sectors in which SMEs operate, support access to financial technology tools, increase the trust in digital technology, and strengthen public-private partnerships for the promotion of digital transformation.
Civil society organisations can raise awareness on the necessity of moving business online, and function as experts during dialogues with national and international stakeholders. Finally, the EU institutions can help mitigate the impact of the pandemic on SMEs by providing technical and financial support, and creating a common platform for the EaP countries for dialogue in the sphere of information security
Establishing an online presence can help SMEs generate higher revenue by reaching new clients and optimising costs through the automation of certain processes. Still, the digitalisation of SMEs also harbours certain risks like threats to cybersecurity, the spread of disinformation, and digital fraud. Thus, SMEs are advised to approach digital transformation systemically, with account of all elements that can be subject to change.