Information Technology and Competitiveness: The Digital SME's program
This program is conducted in alliance with the Institute of Business Excellence to promote the development and implementation of activities leading to the enrichment of human resources in areas such business, commerce and technology as well as to establish two internships for Southeastern business students
Like larger firms, SME's will have to utilize new information technologies to reinforce the development of its managerial capacities in both local and global markets.
However, as it is important to recognize that new information and knowledge technologies represent a unique opportunity to improve the competitive and commercial capacity of the SME sector, it is also imperative to remember that this improvement can only happen if SME's overcome the difficulties associated with these new technologies including internet applications and e-commerce. These are difficult challenges considering the level of resources and technical competencies available in Latin American markets. In fact, in a recent study by Ricardo Monge about the utilization of new information and knowledge technologies in Central America and the impact that it plays in the SME's segment, it was found that:
Costa Rica SME's have low access to some ICTs, especially cellular, computers and Internet
However, they want to have higher access in the short run (less than three years)
Almost no access to high-speed Internet
The digital divide is present among CA MSMEs.
In this regard, SMEs stated several reasons for not using computers and Internet to use ICT to improve its business growth conditions. Some of those reasons were:
SMEs believe they do not need ICTs in their activities
SMEs consider ICTs expensive
SMEs' owners and employees do not have the skills to use ICTs
Considering these difficulties, the Industry Chamber of Costa Rica, through the Business Excellence Institute and Southeastern Louisiana University's College of Business, decided to design a new program oriented to help SMEs with respect to the usage of Information Technologies (IT).
This program, called the SME's Digitalization Program, started in November of 2006. Its aim is to promote the use of ICTs as a tool for SME's business management, strengthening their business capabilities (organization, administration and financial) and fostering a more agile and efficient decision making process.
A common result in a competitive diagnosis of businesses of various sizes in Costa Rica, especially SMEs, shows that one of the most severe limitations on competitiveness lies in the lack of information technology usage to strengthen business competitiveness and promote its profits.
The digital program has also interacted with other IEE programs such as the Small and Micro Suppliers Program in valued added chains of local or transnational corporations. In this case, tailor made activities have been incorporated to the digital training provided to allow for the participating firms to link and use online corporative tools to operate more efficiently without paperwork or time consuming visits to the corporate facilities. This interrelating process among IEE programs has increased the impact to even more SMEs. IEE has also reached an agreement with one of the largest microfinance NGOs in the country -ACORDE, to bring digital services to their clients. So far 20 enterprises have participated in Windows training, further enhancing the program's impact.
From the perspective of education, SME's have not been the only benefactors. In the United States, students monitor the impact of the IEE and Chamber program. Students are briefed on the progress of digital SME program in class by instructors and representatives of the Chamber.
The SME's digitalization program is just a sample of what can be achieved through creative alliances, in this case between a trading association and an academic center, to face the challenges of development that thousand of SMEs that shape the vertebral spine of the productive structure in the countries of this region have to confront.
The SME Digital Program is still at a seminal phase. There is still much to be learned from the implementation of the different software tools as well as how to better apply the overall program.
For more information contact IEE at www.cicr.com
Phone: 506- 2202-5600 in Costa Rica