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Pandemic leaves scramble to catch up with digitally lagging Italy

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Milan (Reuters)-Italy’s small car filter supplier Ecofiltri, like thousands of other companies fighting to maintain ups and downs during a pandemic, last year’s state-backed loan I assembled.

Overview of the exterior of the headquarters of Italian filter supplier Ecofiltri, located in Bust, Abruzzo, Italy, March 16, 2021. Distribution via SimoneScafetta / REUTERS

But instead of spending cash to pay overdue rents and invoices, Ecofiltri is investing that money in technological innovations in its business. Already facing a long-term switch to electric transport, the company was driven to take action after the virus crisis reduced the number of drivers on the road.

Ecofiltri co-founder Simone Scafetta said he hopes Reuters will be able to expand its facilities, buy high-tech equipment, and patent for more intelligent products and services over video calls. We have established an R & D department that we are working on.

According to the Digital Economic and Society Index (DESI), Italy was ranked fourth and last in the EU for digital competitiveness in 2019. By forcing the country to make huge technological accelerations, the pandemic offers Italy a one-off opportunity to boost its weak productivity and economic growth.

For DESI Index 2020 graphics:

Faster economic expansion is essential for the pandemic to maintain the world’s third-largest public debt, which is 1.6 times its gross domestic product (GDP).

According to a study by Milans Politecnico University, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are billing electronically for their use of e-commerce features and big data.

But this trick only works if the company switches from a (crisis-driven) reactive approach to technology to a strategic approach, says Giorgia Sali, head of the Politicnicos Research Hub on SMEs and Digital Innovation. I will.

For DESI index connection diagram:

Italy estimates that businesses in recent years lag behind other parts of Europe in terms of digital investment in amounts approximately equal to 2 percentage points of GDP.

This pandemic has made a welcome change. In a survey of medium to large companies commissioned by Dell Technologies, 86% of Italian respondents said they speeded up their digital transformation plans in 2020. This is above the European average of 75%.

Francesca Moriani, CEO of IT service provider VAR Group, said the pandemic forced Italian companies to confront the country’s huge digital gap, adding that Europe as a whole lags behind the United States and China. ..

The eurozone digital economy is only two-thirds the size of the United States.

Encouragingly, 92% of SMEs surveyed by the VAR Group expect to invest in digital capacity over the next two years, despite the pandemic’s impact on sales.

Recovery fund

Italy’s digital deficit has many roots.

In countries where broadband access is below the EU average, only a small percentage of large companies can sustain technology investment programs.

Many companies are family-owned. In short, there tends to be a shortage of managers with the right skills to lead digital transformation.

A European Central Bank study also highlights funding constraints when companies rely primarily on bank lending, such as Italy, and traditional lenders are able to assess the risks associated with complex technology-based projects. He states that he often has a hard time.

In addition, the aging of the population and the proportion of ICT graduates are very low, with Eurostat figures here showing about 18,000 in small regions of Spain, compared to about 5,000 per year. Italy lags behind in digital competition.

To support the company’s adoption of state-of-the-art technology and ultra-fast connectivity, Rome has allocated € 46 billion to EU recovery funds that have not yet been paid for digital investment.

He also offered tax cuts to companies looking to increase digital spending and appointed former Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao as a technology tour to oversee efforts over the next few years.

As in Greece, the promotion of modernization also covers public services, which Ecofiltris Scafetta said gave a bad example.

Provided staff palmtops and screens to share information non-stop and interact with customers … people walk next door to carry paper documents, as state employees do. No added value.

Located in central Abruzzo, Ecofiltri has succeeded in developing a process that gives diesel particulate filters Second Life.

Ecofiltri launched in September last year to fund projects that include sensors that make it easier to detect filter problems, feed information to websites, and digital warehouse management systems that work with electronic distributors such as Amazon. I borrowed 100,000 euros from Credimi, a fintech loan. Our company.

Digital innovation is an important driver of the credit demand faced by SMEs, Credimi said.

With a few exceptions, Pandemic captured small and medium-sized Italian companies that weren’t ready and scrambled them to keep up with digital advances, said Italian CEO Milan-based BIP Consulting Global Digital. The service Fabio Troiani said.

For some, it’s a matter of life and death.

Fall further back

Many small Italian companies face this challenge.

According to data from Politecnico and the e-commerce lobby Netcomm, the share of SMEs using e-commerce in 2020 was three-thirds of the total as the first e-shopper surged by 2 million during the national blockade last spring. Increased by 50% to 1.

Diagram of SMEs Selling Online:

Politecnico data also shows that cloud services for small businesses increased by 42% as remote workers increased 11.5 times to 6.6 million.

So far, the Italian government’s programs aimed at promoting digital investment have been largely taken up by large corporations.

The challenge is to deploy an onboard company like Ecofiltri, one of the more than 4 million Italian companies with less than 10 staff, or 95% of the total.

In the EU’s lowest country, with ICT graduates accounting for only 1% of the total, SMEs find it difficult to attract people with the necessary skills, with Italy scoring last in the DESI Human Capital Index. Contributes to doing.

It wasn’t easy, but we invited an engineer. The next person to hire must also be an engineer. Otherwise, it will not fit into your development plan.

Diego Siuri, Google’s senior public policy manager, said he wouldn’t just miss an opportunity if consumers couldn’t close Italy’s digital gap when they turned to online channels around the world. I warned.

He said the real risk was even behind.

If Italian winemakers wait for the exhibition to reopen to find new foreign customers, French winemakers will be really good at selling wines online, but lose their chances of growth. Not only will you lose market share.

Additional report by Giuseppe Fonte in Rome.Graphics by Stefano Bernabay; edited by Toby Chopra

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