E-Skills and the Future of SME’s Marketing

E-Skills and the Future of SME’s Marketing
E-Skills and the Future of SME’s Marketing

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Contribution selected by Filodiritto among those published in the Proceedings “International Conference on Economics and Administration 2017”

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1. Introduction

2. ICT Competences and E-Skills Statistics

3. E-Skills in Marketing

4. E-skills and SME’s

5. Supporting E-skills training for SME’s development

6. Conclusions




Businesses are more dependent upon information and communications technology (ICT) in daily activities. Business environment may face various changes, and regular training of the staff is a method through which SMEs may keep a competitive position on the market. This paper submits to the attention that countries with a high individuals’ level of digital skills tend to have better entrepreneurship environment, and vice versa.


1. Introduction

Information and communications technology (ICT) development had offered tremendous opportunities for various business processes in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), improving performance and economic results. ICT became a well-performed ally to overcome critical obstacles to economic growth such us geographic isolation, lack of competition and high prices for consumers, lack of information and low prices for producers, legal exclusion, political voice, social capital [1].

Still, in order for SMEs to promote innovative ideas and to develop market-oriented solutions, it is important to invest in skills. Nowadays, practically it is necessary for every citizen to be digitally literate in a lifelong learning context, in order to cope with the ICT progress [2].

The demand for ICT practitioners is increasing and will continue to increase in the next decade. ICT-related occupations offer several advantages such as: resistance to crises as compared to other jobs; presence in both ICT using industries and ICT sector itself; vast and varied employment opportunities [3].

ICT-related skills (e-skills) will be a core requirement for SMEs and large companies operating not only on an international basis, but also on national level. E-skills relates to “a broader categorization of ICT skills, other skills, knowledge and competences necessary for optimizing the use of ICT and working in a knowledge economy context” [4]. Finding well-trained workforce with good e-skills becomes a real challenge for companies. SMEs all over the world will find difficult to identify and attract e-competent professionals with skills in both information technology and business management [5].

The more complex business environment becomes, being necessary to deal with great amount of information, operating with various partners, and facing each day new and complex challenges, and being up-to-date in order to manage multi-stakeholder plans, more e-competent individuals are required, able to manage high level of information flows, and to link various functions within an organization.

The technological innovation and the up-growing demand for ICT activity put enormous pressure on e-skills practitioners and employees with relevant educational qualifications [2].

Still, the availability of ICT practitioners is insufficient as compared with the continuous growing demand for this type of workforce.

The present paper aims to analysis the e-skills challenges within the labor market. The second section investigate ICT skills at European level and their importance in supporting SME’s development. The third section aims to underline the required e-skills in the marketing and connected fields. The fourth section emphasizes the challenges of SMEs in the digital economy and the need for e-skilled workforce. Section fifth discusses the ways of supporting e-skills training for SMEs’ development. The last section concludes the paper.


2. ICT Competences and E-Skills Statistics

Statistics suggest that ICT is developing very fast and consequently e-skills are more and more important and need to be constantly updated [3].

In Europe, according to the latest data available (for 2011), the percent of individuals who have obtained ICT skills through formal educational institutions registered various values by countries. Thus, the smallest values are found in countries such as Italy (16.1% of individuals), Romania (16.9% of individuals), and Bulgaria (19.7% of individuals). Higher values are found for Slovakia (38.6%), Finland (38.7%), and Sweden (40%).

The demand for ICT skills is on upward slope, as the core ICT jobs register a growth trend of up to 4% p.a., and management jobs are up by as much as 8% p.a. and consequently it is necessary for the increase of the quality and relevance of e-skills [6]. Withal, new jobs profile appears such as Data and Cloud computing specialists which are not genuinely ICT jobs, but will be at a professional level (i.e. finance, marketing, or consulting), helping new business processes be defined and implemented.

Thus, e-Businesses, meaning activities of business that have support of ICT, are also developing in the European Union, following the trends which occurred in technology and society areas. An interesting indicator, which highlights the importance of e-Businesses, is the percentage of enterprises with high levels of digital intensity (meaning enterprises which use as many of a set of 12 technologies: usage of internet by a majority of the workers; access to ICT specialist skills; fixed broadband speed > 30 Mbps; mobile devices used by more than 20% of employed persons; has a website; has some sophisticated functions on the website; presence on social media; use an ERP – enterprise resource planning – software; use a customer relationship management (CRM) software; share electronically supply chain management information; does e-sales for at least 1% of turnover; exploit the B2C opportunities of web sales).

In 2015, the smallest values of digital intensity at EU level were found in countries such as Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania (11.4% of enterprises), and higher values (above 40%) in Netherlands (40.6%), and Denmark (46%). The numbers show that ICT is a powerful tool that can be used to solve SME’s various problems. It is important for managers to have the ability to support the integration of ICT in enterprises, which then can provide long-run benefits.

If ICT is used effectively, this can help in the business development process, and improvement of knowledge and skills of the employees.

In the 21st century job market, more transversal skills are required such as problem-solving, collaboration, critical-thinking, which are closely related to the transformation to the digital economy [7].

3. E-Skills in Marketing

Three main types of e-skills can be identified: ICT practitioner skills; ICT user skills; and E- business skills [8]. The last category, namely e-Business skills relate to… “the capabilities needed to exploit opportunities provided by ICT, notably the internet, to ensure more efficient and effective performance of different types of organizations, to explore possibilities for new ways of conducting business and organizational processes, and to establish new businesses. This generous e-skills category includes various managerial capabilities as well as marketing. The e-Skills Manifesto 2015, a document produced by European Schoolnet and DIGITALEUROPE, stipulates that all economic sectors rely on digital tools and people able to design, use and efficiently maintain them [9]. All sectors need experts in cloud computing, protection of personal data, enterprise architecture, creation of mobile application, massive data analysis, or digital marketing.

The demand for ICT skills keeps growing at a tremendous pace, i.e. up to 4% growth p.a. for core IT jobs, up to 8% growth p.a. for management jobs [10]. Also, new job profiles are more present in the analyzed online vacancy data (e.g. Big Data and Cloud computing specialists), even some of these jobs are not genuinely ICT jobs, such as for instance in finance, marketing, or consulting – as they help new business processes to be described and implemented. Thus, together with traditional ICT studies, new jobs opportunities appear in other industry sectors, but with strong imperative for ICT allowing new educational trajectories.

For marketing departments, the ‘big data’ including various data regarding website postings, user- generated content, GPS, RFID etc. implies skilled employees, able to analyze the existing information, to provide inputs for business and to develop future strategies [11]. The skills most likely to remain ‘onshore’ are: information security skills; ICT supplier management skills; enterprise architecture skills; business process management skills; digital marketing skills; e-leadership skills; data visualization/data analysis, high performance computing skills and User Experience (UX) design skills; legacy maintenance skills [11].

Inside marketing organizations, digital capabilities vary in quality by individual skill, channel and industry. Still, they remain unprepared to digital challenges and if they don’t adapt in developing and improving the e-skills of the employees, their chance of success will decrease. Among the many skills and channels that appear to be in danger of receiving insufficient attention, the following are some of the most important: mobile advertising, mobile web and apps, video, display media, testing [12].

Consequently, marketing departments will need well prepared employees possessing the right e- skills in order to survive in a changing business world. Traditional marketing methods are no longer sufficient in order to boost productivity and attract the right consumers.

Romania has a higher level of e-skills policy, while the level of enterprises commitment to providing training for ICT practitioners is low [3]. The education system is still not properly adapted to the knowledge-based economy [13]. In Romania, the e-skills activity index decreased in 2013 as compared to 2009 [14], showing a low e-skills policy activity. Various national organizations (ARACIS, ARACIP, CNCIS, professional associations) and partners from the education system (schools, universities) are developing new approaches to address the e-skills challenge and to develop projects aimed to support e-skills development [13].

The National Strategy of Digital Agenda for Romania 2020 developed by the Ministry for Informational Society and approved by the Romanian Government in April 2015, aims to ensure the e-inclusion through the development of digital competences – e-skills [15].

Oracle corporation provides products and solutions for each role within the company: Officers (HR Executives, Chief Financial Officers, IT Executives, Marketing Executives, Chief Data Officers, Directors of Operations), Business Leaders (Marketers, Specialists in Sales, HR Specialists, Customer Service), Technologists (IT Operations, Architects, Developers), Community (Partners, Medium Enterprises, User Groups). Some offered courses are designed for marketing professionals and cover aspects related to B2B, B2C, Data Management, Content Marketing, and so on, implying the use of various software [16].

IBM offers courses for marketers, internal employees or external clients. The courses deal with using various software and marketing reports, digital analytics, A/B testing, email marketing, site personalization, and so on [17].

In 2012, Google Romania launched the “Online Marketing Academy” programmed in collaboration with universities from the economic, technical and communication areas, the courses addressing to Romanian students and having as topics the online environment and the opportunities it provides to young entrepreneurs. The courses refer to the online environment analysis (trends and business models), online advertising, online promotion (AdWords, AdSense), Google tools for online businesses, remarketing, landing-page optimization, A/B testing, and so on.

4. E-skills and SME’s

In 2013, in the European Union (EU28), the number of SMEs overtakes 21.5 million enterprises [18], covering a large diversity of sectors and business, operating on a national or international base. The adaptation capabilities of SMEs to ICT development will have a significant importance on the need for e-skills. These means the digitalization of SMEs [11]. The smart use of ICT helps SMEs in innovation, competitiveness and growth, creating integrated digital supply chains and facilitating smart data exchange between partners in the supply chain [19].

Doing business in a digital world requires e-skills especially in some business functions, such as marketing, sales and services. Especially SMEs and entrepreneurs need higher level skills in business and marketing, in order to be able to provide quality inputs in validation of product features, market segmentation, price and demand, pre-sales and customer feedback as well as word-of-mouth marketing [20].

The market and business environment need e-skills, especially SMEs, in order to remain competitive. There are three types of e-skills needed for a competitive and inclusive society: literacy and basic ICT skills; occupational skills required for the labour market; global knowledge economy talents [21].

A real challenge and opportunity for SMEs, in order to facilitate connectivity, is to introduce cloud computing, providing networks, infrastructures, platforms, applications, services, business processes [22]. For SMEs, cloud computing provides performance, productivity, lower-administration costs, security, reliability provide the ability to use business-relevant ICT services which are difficult to access in another context. As an alternative for limited IT skills and investment capacity, cloud- computing represents a reliable option for SME. Moreover, cloud solutions offer global market opportunities without very high investment. E-skills become vital at a certain point when SMEs wants to embrace technology and benefit from cloud computing and their business transformation. ICT practitioners have to strongly cooperate with business management in order to transform cloud computing into a business development tool and further more to create value for the enterprise [4].

Immagine rimossa.

Source: created based on data from [23], [24].

Fig. 1. Global entrepreneurship index vs. individuals’ level of digital skills (individuals with above basic overall digital skills, % of individuals), 2015 (Malta is not included in the analysis due to a break in the series)


For SMEs, the digital skills are vital for their future adaptation to market conditions and support the entrepreneurial process. In the below figure the situation by countries regarding Global entrepreneurship index (GEI) and individuals’ level of digital skills is presented. The data show that countries with a high individuals’ level of digital skills tend to have better entrepreneurship environment, and vice versa.

GEI explains 49 percent of the variation of the individuals’ level of digital skills. Consequently, many other factors may have an important influence on the individuals’ level of digital skills (i.e. understanding the access information process, transmission and process of information, the usage of mobile devices and their appliance on daily activities, including learning and personal development). This suggests that entrepreneurship doesn’t necessarily means a higher level of digital skills, but rather, that there is more than one way through which the individuals’ level of digital skills may be improved.

Moreover, a high individuals' level of digital skills represents a very important aspect in fostering entrepreneurship (the upper right quadrant). Also, in the analyzed countries, people with a high level of digital skills can produce a good entrepreneurship environment, but this relationship is not so important in the case of Luxembourg, which is in the bottom right quadrant. This country has a good score in entrepreneurship and a poor one regarding the individuals’ level of digital skills.

ICT transforms the way people learn, work, live, etc. These aspects put their mark on the way in which people exchange information, interact, develop activities, etc., influencing also the way and direction in which society and economy develop.

5. Supporting E-skills training for SME’s development

The continuous development of ICT and changes in the corresponding e-skills requirements provide a complex, moving target for policy-makers.

SMEs need investments in e-skills in order to increase productivity and respond to strong international competition and global competitive challenges [25]. These requires a strong cooperation between businesses, government, academia, and other social partners and reinforce partnerships and stakeholders dialogue.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships become a key element in stimulating the interest of young people to become an ICT practitioner and to attain e-skills [26]. Academia, universities and other vendor- based training have to focus in providing curricula to develop e-skills of graduate students.

In order to reduce e-skills shortage and gaps it is necessary to ensure productive funding of e-skills meant to provide the ICT workforce necessary to be employed in SMEs. These are the reasons to offer financial and fiscal incentives for e-skills [26]. Financial incentives (grant, course subsidy, loan, training vouchers, cost reimbursement, reduced social contribution, tax incentives) are more popular than fiscal incentives as they can be offered by either government or private bodies, while in the case of fiscal incentives, the state intervention is necessary.

Among financial incentives that can be offered, the most popular remains training grants and course subsidies which may encourage the development of ICT practitioner skills.


Immagine rimossa.


Source: adapted from [26].

Fig. 2. Types of incentives for ICT training

Training in e-skills is important, mainly because this leads to improved performance and productivity. Also, besides the above incentives, training itself may be an incentive for employees who are interested in identifying opportunities of promoting within a SME. E-skills training results may refer to increases of the level of innovation within SMEs, and of the level of new technology adopted.


6. Conclusions

In order to increase innovation, competitiveness and ensure future growth, SMEs need e-skilled workforce. Therefore, it is very important for the SMEs to have access to e-skilled workforce providing the right incentives, partnership opportunities, and so on. Also, it is necessary to create the environment for the entrepreneurs to have access to e-skills required to fully exploit the innovation potential of ICT [27].

For innovative SMEs, e-skilled workforce becomes a must-have on a long-run. E-skilled workforce need to face a great amount of information, conducting different tasks with various business partners. Also, the business environment becomes increasingly complex, regular training being necessary, especially related to e-skills acquirement, in order to effectively solve multiple tasks and solve various problems within enterprises.

Recent researches indicate that there is an increased demand for ICT skilled workers and SMEs must strive to keep the high skilled ICT employees. Also, it is important to offer continuing professional development for the staff, to ensure that the SMEs will be able to offer higher value products and services.

Countries with a high individuals’ level of digital skills tend to have better entrepreneurship environment, and vice versa. The everyday life is changed by the technology and electronic devices, which may influence the job-related activities, the performance, the productivity, and so on. Thus, the investments in e-skills training may improve the innovation within SMEs, and influence their development, the level of new technology adopted within a SME, and their economic results.



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