Given that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) represent 99.8 per cent all EU enterprises and two-thirds of all jobs, it is no surprise that regional policy makers and stakeholders alike are concerned with helping these businesses survive and grow. In an effort to accelerate the development of SMEs, particularly with regard to the take-up of e-business technologies, a recently completed EU project has established a network of regional technology centres aimed at improving and encouraging knowledge transfer and best practices between SMEs at national and European levels in the manufacturing and engineering sector. e-POWER received 642,000 euro in funding under the information society technologies (IST) programme of the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) as part of the Go Digital initiative. With the activities of partners in the UK, Portugal, France, Spain and Switzerland, the network has, since its inception, established around 70 regional technology centres in areas such as information communication technologies (ICT), design engineering and product modelling, manufacturing management, and supply chain integration. 'We recognised the long term importance of SMEs to regional economies throughout Europe,' explained Colin Piddington, the e-POWER project coordinator. 'We also realised that, although they might have good business networks, there was a potential need for them to be able to tap into the opportunities available across Europe.' Instead of establishing contact directly with SMEs, the network sought to link regional centres together to ensure the wider dissemination of information, as well as to prevent the isolation of individual centres. To do so the partners worked closely with regional technology centres that already had good links with target businesses, but not necessarily with other centres. 'We call this our multiplier effect because by working this way, we can multiply the end result. If we were to disseminate and advise SMEs directly, the likelihood is that we would not achieve much coverage,' said Mr Piddington. In addition to improving the technical and innovation transfer channels between SMEs, the project initiated a complete assessment of e-business and e-work in the sectors targeted by the network. It has also developed a benchmarking process, through which regional technology centres can gauge the degree to which SMEs have adopted these concepts, as well as a number of diagnostic tools to help SMEs assess their own e-business strategies.
Switzerland, Spain, France, Portugal