Understanding sector specificity regarding ICT and broadband usage by SMEs in Belgium

Jos Pierson, Dorien Baelden, Bram Lievens, Christine Marsigny

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference paper


In the transition of the techno-economic paradigm, it is crucial that ICT and broadband are embedded within the whole of the economic framework. These technologies have a substantial potential for changing business strategies: instant communication, direct exchange of information and e-commerce increasing the efficiency and productivity of companies and - in the end - of the economy as a whole. This raises the question which kinds of enterprises have incorporated these technologies. Although Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) - as the backbone of the European economy - represent 99.7% of all enterprises, earlier research has shown that many SMEs still lag behind in the usage of ICTs. More in particular the so-called micro-enterprises (SMEs with less then 10 employees) are lagging behind in the attitude, capabilities, take-up and usage of ICT. Therefore public and private institutions are heavily stressing the importance of SME-friendly R&D policy and innovation strategies (e.g. EU i2010 strategy, Competitiveness and Innovation Programme).
However there is still too much a generic approach in policy and research regarding the implementation of ICT and broadband in small firms. Instead of being treated as an analytically coherent unit, there is an urgent need for differentiation according to sector. Former research has demonstrated that the activity is as significant or possibly even more significant than size. This has been the outset of our multi-methodological study on Belgian small firms. We investigate to what extent the specificity of sectors helps us to understand ICT and broadband usage by SMEs.
Under the authority of the Belgian Ministry of Economy we are investigating an optimal approach for stimulating ICT appropriation by small firms based on sector specificity. This research takes place in the period of November 2005 until July 2006. To do so first a general overview was made of existing resources and findings regarding sector specific adoption and use of ICT, complemented by interviews with 'horizontal' organisations and bodies that represent SMEs. Next a survey was done with 966 Belgian enterprises that answered an online questionnaire. More in particular we looked at companies that already have an internet connection, but that do not use the connection at it's full potential for sector specific activities. In this way we have identified those sectors that are lagging behind on ICT innovation in their business processes regarding production and administrative support. Within these sectors we then interviewed the 'vertical' organisations for collecting sector specific views on stimulating internet and broadband. Finally the outcome of the former research phases are being discussed with business owners from the respective sectors in a series of in-depth focus group interviews. This enables contextual mapping of SMEs in three different sectors: construction, retail distribution and manufacturing.
The paper consists of three consecutive components. First we highlight the specificity of SMEs and micro-enterprises and the meaning of ICTs for these businesses. Second we give an overview of the current situation in Belgium. Finally we focus on the opportunities of ICTs for SMEs in three key sectors that have an extensive potential to improve. This paper will have an added value on two levels. Firstly it provides a better understanding in the way small enterprises within three sectors operate by means of ICT and broadband. Secondly it highlights how sectoral dimensions (socio-professional profile, production processes, trading network, managerial culture,...) affect the attitude of SMEs towards ICT. In this respect it clarifies the constraints for ICT appropriation, the way to overcome these constraints and the perceived opportunities and so contributes to innovation and growth in SMEs. The findings of this research are integrated in a public initiative for stimulating ICT among Belgian SMEs.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherBREAD - Broadband For All. Geneva, Switzerland
ISBN (Print)978-1-60423-789-4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2006
EventFinds and Results from the Swedish Cyprus Expedition: A Gender Perspective at the Medelhavsmuseet - Stockholm, Sweden
Duration: 21 Sep 200925 Sep 2009

Publication series

NameBroadBand Europe 2006 Conference


ConferenceFinds and Results from the Swedish Cyprus Expedition: A Gender Perspective at the Medelhavsmuseet


  • Micro-enterprises
  • SMME
  • SME
  • ICT use
  • Domestication


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