European SMEs digitalisation study results

Our research team have been busy finalising results from our European SME digitalisation study over the last couple of months and finally here they are. We have been interested in gaining insight into how SMEs adopt and embed digital technologies through their firms and their perceptions of any value derived from doing so.  A short overview report of the main findings which we sent to the participants from the four countries involved (Britain, Spain, Italy and Ireland) can be found on  or here.


Whilst we have a lot more in depth analysis to conduct on both the 43 interviews and 357 completed surveys key themes have already emerged. We were expecting to find large between country differences but there were few, mostly around the preference for certain digital tools for communication.

  1. Smaller firms share many similarities despite operating in differing industry sectors and different countries.
  2. Smaller firms see the potential for digitalisation across their whole firm not just within the Marketing function.
  3. Smaller firms as yet  have not realised the potential of digitalisation.
  4. Smaller firms believe strongly in the attitudes of individuals within the firm driving the adoption of digital technologies.

As we delve further into the data we will be creating both academic frameworks to develop scholarship on the subject and  also actionable insight for smaller firms to assist them in making the most of adopting digital technologies.


The Digitalisation of Europeans SMEs – get involved in this study!

My wonderful research group are leading a programme of research on the digitalisation of European SMEs. Our study will identify the drivers  of diglitalisation for European small business and how the adoption of digital technologies may lead to competitive advantage.

There is divided opinion on the value of digital technologies for smaller businesses. Authors such as Boges et al.,( 2009) and Harrigan et al., (2011) argue that  digital technology is good for business. However, Bharadwaj (2000)  and Thrassou and Vrontis (2008)  suggest  that digital technology advantage may be short lived.  Giuri et al (2008) go further by saying that digital technologies may be detrimental as smaller business may lose focus by  diverting attention to technology adoption.

amazing research group

So, having spent 9 months conducting a through literature review and interviewing 55 companies across 5 countries (UK, Ireland, Spain, Italy and Malta) we are now rolling out an online questionnaire  to determine  the factors which support digitalisation in SMEs and whether we can identify an orientation or particular perspective which lends itself to digital technology adoption.

So if you are or know of an European SME, please do participate in our research study, participants will receive a summary report of the findings if they so wish. SMEs are considered for this research to be firms which fit into one of these three categories –  under 2m Euros annual turnover, under 10 m Euros annual turnover or under 50m  Euros turnover.
Completion of the 22 question survey  should take approximately 10 minutes and the deadline  is 31st July 2015. The questionnaire requires no personal or competitively sensitive information and has been granted research ethics approval by Oxford Brookes University, number L14100.
I will post updates to the research and our findings over the next few months.




Time, digitalisation and the Oxford Internet Institute

Oii (Oxford Internet Institute)  held an absorbing  seminar discussion this week between John Naughton and Prof Judie Wajcman  on the key themes of time and digitalisation emerging from her recent book Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism,  published by the University of Chicago. Earnest and somewhat self absorbed research students filled the audience to endorse and challenge Judie’s notions of time and technology tethering people. John Naughton, resplendent in bright pink socks aided the Economic Sociologist to unfold her thinking which  questions the notion of technology driving the squeezing of time. I will  do my best to outline some of the key ideas discussed.

pressed for time book cover

One of  Judie’s claims is that time is a culturally bound artefact and that acceleration  and perceptions of acceleration are not new. For example the advent of trains and telegraph caused morel panic when first introduced. Second, that digital is disruptive but it can be positive in terms of creating different types of time, the mobile being seen as key to adding intimacy between people and organising highly complex family lives.  Liberation and usefulness of technology  is present  through saving tiny packets of time  via micro-acts, such as citizens donating £1 via their phones,  or signing an online petition. 

Furthermore  the belief that the fastest technology is the best  may be mistaken, are we honestly experiencing real innovation through yet another upgrade?  Both Judie and John were firmly of the view that invention and creativity within technology should be widened beyond those in Silicon valley who have a deterministic view of technology and claim they are doing good for humanity. John  also commented on the overemphasis on ‘kit’ hardware and software etc.  whereas the thinking should be focused around technology as a social process. The general acceptance of technology as envisioned by a tiny minority should be questioned both speakers felt, though the young audience did not readily agree with this.

Technology and the labour market was raised, the concept of presentism at work now morphing into the constant connectivity and  the symbiotic relationship  between people and their mobile phones. The norms of speed of response for work based matters, and the  Stanford research project on the multitasking at work and its effects  were given as examples. Those who engage in  the intensification of life are increasingly viewed  in the media and by their peers as the winners but those who take a slower path are seen as the non-winners – the losers. Judie proposed that what we are all in need of was temporal sovereignty – the ability to control our time.


A balance needs to be struck between viewing digitalisation and technology as either dystopia or utopia but the mass media is not presenting the  mid ground, perhaps because it makes less compelling reading?  The schism between  ‘We have created a monster’ and  ‘digital technology is  Narnia’ should be avoided.

The discussion was thought provoking and questioned some of the assumptions held by the audience, including myself. I walked out into the street and into a bookstore to try to buy the book – we are in Oxford after all – but Waterstones had no copies -it could be ordered and take  5 days. I used my phone, ordered it on Amazon and it arrived the next day. Time and technology!


Digitalisation and the loss of place in the marketing mix?

Does place matter?  Does a physical space in which something happens matter? Or is it context specific? How is digitalisation altering the sense of place? – So many questions came to mind during breakfast, upon hearing the proposal for online courts to settle small civil court cases in the UK.

Following E-Bay’s successful online dispute resolution (ODR) service for buyers and sellers which resolves between 50-60 million disputes a year, the Lord Chief Justice  IT Advisor, Prof Sir Richard Susskind and the Law Commission is proposing how online could improve the civil court system in the UK. Her Majesty’s Online Court  as it would be known could provide faster, more efficient and cost effective resolutions to many disputes and this innovation would merely reflect the way in which businesses and consumers  are now behaving.

online dispute resolution blog

So does place matter in this context?. The court provides a  vital set of services, and the old expression of ‘I’ll take you to court’ which was used as a threat to encourage payment of outstanding invoices, and disagreements over contract terms for businesses may now become ‘I’ll upload my complaint’. Possibly less threatening but also potentially more effective. In this instance I do not think place matters and that digitalisation can replace a physical location.

digital citizen

The second illustration of digital’s disruption to a sense of place was also presented to me over breakfast via The New York Times International edition (hard copy). The increasing expectation and use of online repositories of artefacts by museum and art gallery visitors throughout the world has chanelled the efforts of  museums etc to catalogue and present their exhibits via their websites in  more dynamic and interactive formats. You can now look at and listen to a commentary of the Mona Lisa and see  the reverse panels of the painting which would not be possible  if you visited the Louvre itself. Some museums are linking paintings with critical essays of the painters and the genres to extend the information available to the online user. According to the New York Times article the British Museum views a  website as ‘an extension of its core purpose… to be a laboratory of comparative cultural investigation’.

ai wei wei tree

Potentially all museums and galleries could be interlinked via digital technologies and suggestions have been made as to the potential revenue streams this could create, possibly as subscription based services. Whilst this ability to research and view the world’s artistic triumphs from  a laptop or mobile should not be derided I think there is something lost by not standing in front of a sculpture or painting and being in awe (see Ai Wei Wei’s Iron Tree taken at the Yorkshire Sculpture park in 2014) – sharing a space with an artwork can be hugely inspiring. So in this case I do think there is a sense of loss of  impact of place if we rely solely  on digitalised art. The ‘place’ within the marketing mix has been changed irrevocably through digitalisation  but physical presence should not be under valued as an important factor in how we interact with  the creative arts and how shape our views of the world.