DigiBEST - research and promotion of digital transformation for SMEs
In 2019, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development of Latvia (MoEPRD) launched the Digital Transformation of Business Environment project (Digi BEST), implementing the European Structural and Investment Funds Objective for territorial cooperation (INTERREG EUROPE - Interregional cooperation program - 2014-2020). Seven partners from six countries/regions are participating in the project: Austria, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Portugal and Spain (partner countries). The University of Latvia is participating in the project as an advisory partner.
The initiative aims to promote and support the competitiveness of SMEs and offer solutions for the digital transformation (DT) of SMEs in European rural areas, using modern technologies and new innovative business methods, and promoting sustainable and inclusive growth in Europe and its regions.
In the first phase, from August 2019 to July 2022, the state of play for SMEs digital transformation process was assessed, for each partner country, also raising awareness and sharing experience on challenges and needs and supporting an interregional learning process around these topics. As a result of the first phase, each project partner developed an Action Plan related to their chosen Policy Instrument to strengthen the digital transformation in business. The second phase of the project will be carried out from August 2022 to July 2023, to implement the defined Action Plan.
The total funding of the project is more than 1.5 Million Euro.
DigiBEST project in Latvia
The initiative established a working group with representatives from the Ministry of Economics, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development, the State Employment Agency, the Union of Local Governments of Latvia, Vidzeme, Kurzeme, Riga and Zemgale regions, Jelgava Municipality, Zemgale Region Competence Development Center, Jelgava Region, Latvia Information and Communication Technology Association, Latvian IT Cluster, Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Latvian Employers' Confederation, Latvian Open Technology Association, Ventspils Digital Center, ans Latvian Investment and Development Agency.
The Digital Transformation Guidelines for 2021-2027 outline how Latvian companies do not fully use their digitalization potential yet (Latvian business is behind EU average and no significant progress has been made in the integration of digital technologies in companies). Latvian companies are still under-exploiting the potential of online sales of goods and services, lagging significantly behind the EU average in terms of percentage of e-commerce revenue from SMEs. Only 11% of SMEs sell goods online, below the EU average of 17.5%. The share of SMEs trading across borders is still below the EU average as well, with only 6.6% of all SMEs compared to 8.4% in the EU as a whole and only an average of 5.3% of SME revenue comes from the online segment. Businesses have limited use of electronic information exchange, e-cloud computing and social media, and only 7.7% of businesses use big data.
The DigiBEST initiative has tackled these challenges with various national activities.
A Regional Study about digital transformation and its impact on SMEs, including surveys with entrepreneurs and managers was carried out, followed by a Peer Review exercise involving experts from Norway and Austria to assess Latvian SMEs digital transformation and provide conclusions and recommendations on how to promote it in Latvia, also improving the impact of policy instruments (ERDF and Recovery and Resilience Facility). During the implementation of the project, examples of good practice were also identified - both in Latvia and in the partner countries - to promote exchange of experiences and transfer of knowledge. Finally, 6 working group meetings and 15 individual meetings with stakeholders were organized, to actively involve them in the activities, since stakeholders play an important role in the implementation.
As results of these activities, a Business Digital Roadmap (Roadmap) was developed, as a tool to help decision making to build the Action Plan. Furthermore, as result of the recommendations, a regional Action Plan for 2022-2023 was defined, which includes various actions: one-stop platform towards SMEs Digital Transformation, Knowledge bank with useful resources for entrepreneurs and a SME Digital Maturity Test to provide individual consultation and trainings. These activities are being implemented by the Latvian Investment and Development Agency and the Latvian IT Cluster.