90% of Irish SMEs to be digitalised

Digital Ireland Framework aims to transition entire Irish economy and society. 

The Irish Government this week revealed the Digital Ireland Framework to capture the opportunities of digital technology for the betterment of business and society.

It could be argued that without key digital infrastructure such as broadband, few businesses and their employees would have been able to play a key role in keeping the Irish economy functioning. Another major upheaval was the shift by many consumers to online shopping and the rush by retailers to embrace e-commerce to keep their stores open.

“The target of equipping 90% of Ireland’s SMEs with a basic level of digital intensity by 2030 will require a total reconfiguration of our approach to digitalisation”

As Ireland emerges from the pandemic, the Irish Government says it wants to capture and build upon the positive elements of this experience, in a considered and balanced way.

The new framework aims to help small businesses benefit from digital opportunities by providing grants and assistance, with a target of 90% of SME at basic digital intensity by 2030 and 75% enterprise take-up in cloud, AI and big data.

Connectivity and cloud

Other facets of the framework include making connectivity available to everyone, including through the National Broadband Plan, Remote Working Hubs and Broadband Connection Points, with a target of having all Irish households and businesses covered by Gigabit network no later than 2028 and all populated areas covered by 5G no later than 2030.

The framework envisages providing digital skills for all – from school, to further and higher education, to life-long learning, with a target of increasing the share of adults with at least basic digital skills to 80% by 2030;

It also envisages ensuring widespread access and use of inclusive digital public services, with a target of 90% of services to be consumed online by 2030.

The plan is to also invest in cyber-security to protect Irish citizens and businesses, including increased resources for the National Cyber Security Centre.

The Minister of State with responsibility for Public Procurement and eGovernment and special responsibility for Communications and Circular Economy, Ossian Smyth TD, emphasised the importance of Government as an enabler of digital infrastructure.

He highlighted the links to Ireland’s sustainability agenda, and the value of an ethical approach, noting: “As we advance Ireland’s digital journey, this Strategy will ensure we do so in a comprehensive and values-based way.

“The digital transition, enabled by universal, high-quality connectivity, will be particularly important for our decarbonisation transition, with digital technologies supporting the achievement of our climate targets, for example optimising energy use or reducing emission through less commuting. The Strategy sets out a coherent framework to oversee the increased uptake of digital technologies across all sectors of the economy and society.

“The ambitious targets for digital connectivity will be a central enabler in achieving the transition and will support Government in increasing the uptake of digital Government services and achieving the ambitious target of having 90% of services used online, and do this in an inclusive and transparent way.”

Speed is of the essence

The business group Digital Business Ireland has welcomed the framework.

“Digitalisation should be a national objective – and we must bring every single business on this journey”

Since its foundation, Digital Business Ireland has been at the forefront of the campaign to accelerate digitalisation across the SME sector, with its most recent ‘Backing Business’ initiative providing five small businesses with digital transformation packages to the value of €100,000.

While the representative body is encouraged by the rate of digital adoption among SMEs over the last two years, and has welcomed the publication of the National Digital Strategy, it warns that there is still a significant disparity between the digital functionality of large, multinational enterprises and indigenous Irish businesses. 

Having digital functionality is essential for businesses, and once implemented, the objectives outlined in the Strategy will help to drive digital transformation, empower Irish enterprises to unlock new market opportunities and encourage sustainable growth”.

“As with any ambitious programme, there will be challenges,” said Lorraine Higgins, secretary-general of Digital Business Ireland.

“The target of equipping 90% of Ireland’s SMEs with a basic level of digital intensity by 2030 will require a total reconfiguration of our approach to digitalisation, and must involve sustained engagement with industry stakeholders who have the insight and expertise to advance the Strategy in a meaningful way.

“As a representative body that works primarily with SMEs, we understand the obstacles which must be overcome in order to promote greater digital adoption. Digitalisation should be a national objective – and we must bring every single business on this journey. In that sense, we look forward to working collaboratively with all stakeholders to help Ireland become a global leader in digital.”

John Kennedy
Award-winning ThinkBusiness.ie editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.