A REPORT launched by Google confirms a substantial economic opportunity for Ireland exists if a meaningful investment in digital skills is made.
The comprehensive study developed in partnership with Amárach provides detailed insights into the digital capability needs, ambitions, and plans of 1,000 SME leaders throughout Ireland. The research proposes that significant investment into digital skills could contribute an extra €9.5 billion to Ireland’s GDP by 2025.
To help Irish businesses succeed online, it is important to first understand how they’re doing today and what their goals are. That is why Google commissioned Amárach to engage SME leaders on their lived experiences and expectations of their digital journey. Titled Bridging the Gap - A Report on Digital Capabilities in Irish SMEs, the study, one of the largest surveys of Irish SMEs in recent years, identified four key gaps in digital capabilities:
Performance - how far businesses are from realising their full potential. Competence – how businesses are struggling to use digital skills. Investment - the role of funding, time, and talent in expanding competence. Advisory – the absence of qualified advisors and suppliers to meet digital needs.
Most Irish SMEs are in the process of adopting, developing, and evolving their use of digital technologies, but some are further ahead in the process than others.
When asked to rate their own progress, the majority (68%) of SMEs in Cork are ‘less than halfway’ on their digital journey compared to the national average of 62%.
Recruiting people with the necessary digital skillset is also a challenge for Irish SMEs with 41% of respondents agreeing that they do not have a person within the organisation who is tasked with developing digital skills. Only 26% of Irish SMEs say their employees have all the skills needed in terms of basic digital capabilities.
Faced with multiple demands on their time and energy, the report indicates that business leaders believe that the digital skills gap can be closed, but the challenge is prioritising it over other short and medium-term tasks.
The report finds that only 11% of Ireland’s SMEs feel their employees have the skills needed to successfully adopt and use new technology, a statistic borne out in the data where only 42% of SMEs in Cork have (or use) social media and video platforms (compared to the national average of 53%) and just 11% make use of customer insights tools (versus the national average of 18%).
When measuring the number of SMEs that have their own business website, Ireland at 55% ranks comparably lower than the EU average of 77% with firms in Cork lower at 49%.
The research shows that Irish SMEs are ambitious when it comes to investing in digital capabilities but 50% say they lack basic knowledge about which skills to prioritise.
The report indicates that policymakers, advisors, and suppliers to the SME sector need to help address the priority gaps that will deliver quick wins, spurring decision-makers to go further.
Commenting, Alice Mansergh, Director for Small Business at Google said: “The timing of this report could not be more important, the decisions that business leaders and policy stakeholders make about digital capabilities in the coming months and years will have profound implications for the long-term productivity and profitability of the SME sector, and for sustainable economic growth over the rest of the decade.
“For its part, Google will use these findings to help shape the courses we provide via the Grow with Google initiative helping to train people in key digital skills that will empower them to embrace new business and commercial opportunities.”
Irish SMEs are very confident (56%) that meeting their digital skills objectives could make a big difference to business performance, and not just on one or two metrics. SME leaders in Cork believe that improving digital capabilities would allow them to increase wages and salaries (28%).
Over half of SMEs surveyed in Cork say that meeting their objectives [in digital capabilities] would help them to grow faster (55%) and become more profitable (66%). 40% SME leaders in Cork say that meeting their objectives [in enhancing/building digital capabilities] would help them to expand into new markets.