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Irish firms urged to boost growth by having a strategy for going digital

Research shows two thirds of businesses have no such plan despite the huge benefits

Digitalisation has risen to the top of the agenda for many Irish companies as they look forward to a post-pandemic world. “It’s fundamentally a competitiveness issue,” says Enterprise Ireland head of global marketing, corporate communications and digital, Conor O’Donovan.

“OECD research shows that adoption of digital technologies leads to higher levels of productivity, and we’ve seen many Irish companies successfully move their businesses online throughout the pandemic.”

Businesses need to digitalise if they are to capitalise on market opportunities, he continues. “They can access global markets much more effectively and at lower cost by digitalising their operations.

“It also offers an opportunity to automate processes to become more productive and more competitive. That in turn can help them develop new products and services and create new revenue streams.”


Despite the clear benefits, Enterprise Ireland’s own research reveals that the majority of Irish businesses have yet to begin their digitalisation journeys.

“Two-thirds of our clients told us they had no digitalisation strategy in place even though Covid had highlighted its benefits in terms of remote working, trading online and so on,” he points out. “On the other hand, 80 per cent of them told us that developing a plan was a key priority for them over the coming year.”

In response to these research findings, Enterprise Ireland established a dedicated digitalisation unit in mid-2021.

“We are taking a twin-track approach,” O’Donovan explains. “We are helping companies at an early stage in their digitalisation journey to take the first steps towards developing a strategy which meets their needs, and we are also supporting companies which are much more advanced.”

Online tool

A digital-readiness scorecard has been created to help those companies still at a very early stage. “This is an online tool to help companies see where they stand in relation to digitalisation,” he says. “It also signposts the various supports available from Enterprise Ireland and other organisations like Skillnet Ireland and the Local Enterprise Offices.

“It’s a very practical way to start the journey and over 600 companies have used it so far.”

It is particularly useful for small companies, O’Donovan adds. “They have a lot going on at the best of times and they are trying to deal with Covid as well at the moment. Time is an issue for them.

“The scorecard offers them a practical way forward. It enables them to have discussions internally and with others about which areas to focus on and what initiatives can best support the business.”

Piecemeal measures will only go so far, however. A coherent strategy is required. “The statistics show that many digitalisation projects don’t succeed. But when companies have a digitalisation strategy which is aligned to their business strategy, the chances of success are increased very significantly.

“It must not be digital for digital’s sake. The strategy must be about things like improving the customer experience, winning new customers, improving process efficiency, acquiring new skills and so on.”

Interestingly, technology is not central to digitalisation. “Businesses need to review their processes to see where efficiencies can be made. Enterprise Ireland and the Local Enterprise Offices have very good lean business improvement offers to assist with that.

“It’s not just about purchasing technology. The people piece is also vitally important. Companies have to understand how to engage and equip their people to embrace and implement the changes.

“Leadership teams are particularly important in that regard. They need to fully understand digitalisation if they are to implement the project successfully. Companies should also have a digital leader who can own the project. It has to be championed across the organisation.”

€9,000 voucher

A further support for companies comes in the form of Enterprise Ireland’s Digitalisation Voucher, which provides €9,000 in funding for businesses to hire a consultant to carry out an assessment of their digital maturity and develop a digitalisation roadmap for the future.

“The funding gives companies access to the external expertise to assist them in deciding on their digitalisation strategy and acquiring the technology they require to implement it. The funding enables companies to stand back and take a look at their business, identify gaps and opportunities, particularly in areas such as process optimisation, customer experience, digital marketing and cybersecurity, and to develop a strategy.”

To date, more than 130 companies have been approved for vouchers worth €1.2 million.

“There is very strong interest in digitalisation,” O’Donovan adds. “More than 800 companies registered for a webinar on the topic in December and we are now seeing companies who are further along the journey investing in technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and automation to improve their efficiency and gain competitive advantage.

“In one instance, a client company is using AI to predict the weather to inform production decisions.”

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times