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Policy context

Contribution to enterprise policy

Research has broadly confirmed the important role of ICT for productivity growth, innovation and ultimately competitiveness. Against this background, the economic, industrial and research policies of the European Commission have placed great emphasis on promoting the broad uptake of ICT among European enterprises for many years.

The mission of DG Enterprise and Industry in this context is twofold: to enhance the competitiveness of the ICT sector itself, and to facilitate the efficient uptake of ICT among the user industries, i.e. for European enterprises in general. This study is embedded within the latter objective.

"ICT are an important tool …"

"More efforts are needed to improve business processes in European enterprises if the Lisbon targets of competitiveness are to be realised. European companies, under the pressure of their main international competitors, need to find new opportunities to reduce costs and improve performance, internally and in relation to trading partners. ICT are an important tool to increase companies’ competitiveness, but their adoption is not enough; they have to be fully integrated into business processes."

European Commission

Research of the Sectoral e-Business Watch is intended to contribute in particular to the following six priorities of DG Enterprise and Industry's policy :

Priorities of DG ENTR policy

Contributions of the SeBW

Developing the ICT sector and ICT uptake in all sectors, thereby promoting European competitive performance (encouraging businesses to adapt to structural change and maintaining a high level of productivity growth)

- study the role of ICT and e-business for competitive performance and productivity growth

- identify barriers for exploiting the potential of ICT and e-business in this regard

- suggest possible policy actions to enhance the impact of ICT and e-business

Taking account of the specific characteristics and needs of the different industrial sectors

- provide evidence about the characteristics of different sectors with regard to their ICT usage

- assess the impact of ICT and e-business on value chain characteristics of sectors

Promoting innovation – following up technological developments, new product designs and developing new ways of marketing products (e.g. e-business)

- improve the understanding of innovation dynamics in different sectors

- analyse the role of ICT usage and e-business for innovative output

- contribute to the development of a new conceptual framework for innovation in which ICT is a vital element

Fostering entrepreneurship and economic conditions in which SMEs can be created and then thrive

- improve the understanding of the role of ICT use in SMEs in particular industries

- analyse the uptake of ICT and e-business in SMEs

- draw policy conclusions on how to foster ICT and e-business use in SMEs

Promoting sustainable development – improve the EU’s industrial, economic and commercial competitiveness, while giving due consideration to the planet’s future prospects

- improve the understanding of the role of ICT for sustainable development

- analyse the actual and potential impact of ICT on the environment, in particular on energy use and greenhouse gas emission

- draw policy conclusions for more effective use of ICT for environmental purposes

Promote a flexible regulatory framework providing access to the single market while protecting essential public requirements

- identify and analyse issues related to ICT and e-business which indicate suboptimal regulatory conditions for European businesses

- suggest improved regulations

The roots: Lisbon, eEurope and i2010

Many of the relevant ICT and e-business policies of today are rooted in some way in the Lisbon objectives and the ensuing eEurope Action Plans of 2002 and 2005. eEurope was designed as a key instrument in response to the Lisbon objective that the EU become the most competitive knowledge-based society in the world by 2010. The eEurope 2005 Action Plan set a related goal, i.e. "to promote take-up of e-business with the aim of increasing the competitiveness of European enterprises and raising productivity and growth through investment in information and communication technologies, human resources (notably e-skills) and new business models".

The more recent i2010 Strategic Framework also stresses the critical role of ICT for productivity and innovation, stating that "… the adoption and skilful application of ICT is one of the largest contributors to productivity and growth throughout the economy, leading to business innovations in key sectors" (p. 6). The Communication anticipates "a new era of e-business solutions", based on integrated ICT systems and tools, which will lead to an increased business use of ICT.

However, the i2010 Communication also warns that businesses "still face a lack of interoperability, reliability and security", which could hamper the realisation of productivity gains (p. 7). These topics have played an important role in many e-business related policies in the past, which aimed at improving the relevant framework conditions. These policy considerations constitute an important background to the activities of DG Enterprise and Industry as regards ICT and e-business policies.

The "Go Digital" initiative

An important milestone in linking SME policies with ICT-related objectives was the "Go Digital" initiative (2001-2003), an umbrella policy covering many activities to support SMEs in using ICT for doing business. The initiative built on the European Commission Communication on "Helping SMEs to Go Digital", adopted on March 13, 2001, which aimed at raising awareness among SMEs on opportunities stemming from e-business.

Under the action "promoting awareness for Going Digital" of the Communication, DG Enterprise and Industry launched a grant theme in May 2001 under the Multi-Annual Programme. Its objective was to support e-business events, organised at European, national, regional, local or sectoral level, with the support of multiple organisations, aiming to:

  • identify and disseminate best practice and showcases of SMEs using e-business
  • make SMEs aware of the particular benefits of e-business
  • identify and discuss the practical obstacles that SMEs in general and the target sectors in particular face in e-business
  • widely disseminate "Go Digital" policy orientations

This initiative was very successful, measured by the constantly increasing amount of interest it received. The well-organised campaigns and events attracted a large number of participants. More than 120 conferences, seminars and workshops have taken place in various European countries.

The eBSN

With the foundation of the eBSN, the European e-Business Support Network, the Commission ensured the continuity of work started by "Go Digital", while adapting the policy instruments used to promote the uptake of e-business among SMEs. The eBSN focuses even more on networking and exchange of good policy practice. This builds upon the results of the Go Digital initiative, and specifically on a benchmarking study on national and regional policies in support of e-business for SMEs conducted in 2002. The main lesson learned from this study was that there are many successful policy initiatives in support of e-business for SMEs in Europe, but that these were too isolated and that their efficiency could be further enhanced by learning from each other and sharing best practise and information material.

Similarly, in its conclusions on the impact of the e-economy on the competitiveness of European enterprises of 6 June 2002, the Industry Council invited the EU Member States and the Commission to "intensify dialogue, exchange regularly experience, identify specific goals for e-business policies and to share best practices".

In response, the eEurope 2005 Action Plan, as adopted by the Commission on 28 May 2002 and endorsed by the European Summit in Seville on 21 June 2002, foresaw the establishment of "a European e-business support network, federating existing European, national and regional players in this field with a view to strengthening and co-ordinating actions in support of SMEs in the field of e-business". Moreover, a major conclusion of the final benchmarking report of the E-Business Policy Group was the recommendation to intensify networking, sharing information and experience between organisations supporting SMEs, in order to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

Against this background, the eBSN was launched with the following main objectives:

  • To bring together real decision makers in the field of e-business, with a view to sharing information and discussing strategic policy orientation;
  • To validate existing e-business policies and to agree on targets for future e-business policies;
  • To provide a "one-stop-shop" for information about regional, national and European initiatives and funding possibilities for SMEs;
  • To organise special meetings of governmental e-business experts as a platform for sharing practical experience and to identify future challenges.

The eBSN is open to all relevant policy initiatives in support of e-business for SMEs in the Member States, the Acceding and Candidate Countries and the EEA EFTA States, which are willing to share experience and information. A standing invitation for expression of interest to join the eBSN is available.

Without prejudice to the results of a (future) final evaluation, it can be argued that the eBSN has been a success story. It has constantly grown and is now a network of about 175 members, who are involved in similar policy initiatives and regularly meet to exchange their experiences. Meetings are supported by a web platform with links and documents for policy makers. The eBSN is an important 'pillar' of the ICT and e-business related policies of DG Enterprise and Industry, in combination with other policy pillars (for example the European e-Skills Forum, work on standardisation and interoperability, policies in support of a favourable legal environment for e-business, and the Sectoral e-Business Watch.

The renewed Lisbon objective

"Go Digital" and the "e-BSN" are specific policy initiatives addressing ICT uptake and policies; they are embedded in a broader policy background, starting with the Lisbon objective of 2000. The high-level debate on the objective and on the most appropriate policy instruments to achieve it has been intensive and rich in controversy. Serious concerns about the effectiveness of governance processes have been raised. In response to rising concern, in February 2005, the European Commission proposed a new start for the Lisbon Strategy. While the "Lisbon re-launch" implements changes in the governance structures, i.e. the way objectives are to be addressed, the overall focus on growth and jobs remains unchanged.

Some of the policy areas of the renewed Lisbon objectives address ICT-related issues. Central Policy Area No. 6 deals with facilitating ICT uptake across the European economy. Policy-makers in this area will require thorough analysis of ICT uptake based on accurate and detailed information on the most recent developments. Such evidence-based analysis is also needed when targeting individual sectors to fully exploit the technological advantages, in alignment with Central Policy Area No. 7 “Contributing to a strong European industrial base”. Furthermore, Guideline No. 9, addressed to Member States, encouraging the widespread use of ICT, can be effectively addressed only if actions are based on understanding of the potential for and probable effectiveness of interventions.

In terms of employment objectives, policy makers continue to be confronted with a huge dilemma. On the one hand, it is uncontested that ICT is a major enabler of rationalisation in enterprises, and often a direct cause of job elimination. On the other hand, no industry in a global economy can afford not to make use of this potential and remain competitive, and, should an industry fall behind competitors in other economies, even more jobs would be lost. In tackling this dilemma, the Commission has opted for a proactive approach, aiming to foster the uptake of ICT, knowledge and innovation, conceived together as the "engines of sustainable growth". It terms of ICT, the strategy is to optimise exploitation of this technology to create new jobs through increased competitiveness, as well as through growth in the European ICT industry itself, and in this way to compensate for the progressive loss of traditional forms of employment as ICT-based automation gains in sophistication and reach.

The new industrial policy

In 2005, against a background of unremitting globalisation and intensifying international competition, the European Commission launched a new industrial policy  to create better framework conditions for manufacturing industries in coming years. While globalisation and technological change are likely to intensify in the coming years, the policy also points out that industry needs to adapt to the challenges posed by climate change and to grasp the opportunities of new low- energy and resource saving processes and products.

Some of the policy strands described have direct links to ICT and e-business developments. One of the sector-specific initiatives covered by this policy was the set up of a Taskforce on ICT Competitiveness. The taskforce addressed the following topics: ICT uptake; IPR for competitiveness and innovation; innovation in R&D, manufacturing and services; SMEs and entrepreneurship; skills and employability; and achieving a single market. Six working groups analysed these topics and prepared topic papers. The conclusions of the taskforce were summarised in the report "Fostering the Competitiveness of Europe's ICT Industry" (2006).

Another initiative of industrial policy is to conduct a series of Competitiveness Studies (2007-2011) which analyse trends affecting the competitiveness of specific industrial sectors. While these studies have a broader scope than focusing on the role of ICT for competitiveness, they are clearly relevant for the work of the SeBW. Up to 48 studies will be conducted, based on a Framework Contract with a consortium led by ECORYS, in a period of four years (starting in 2007 and ending in 2011). Studies are available, for example, for the following sectors which have also been covered by e-busines studies of the Sectoral e-Business Watch:

# Steel (2008)

# Ceramics (2008)

# Glass (2008)

# Textile, clothing, footwear and leather (2007)