According to surveys and digital maturity indices, German small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are making progress with regard to digital transformation, but they are less digitized than large enterprises and also tend to be average compared to SMEs in other European countries. One challenge for SMEs is to choose which of the emerging digital technologies and applications are suitable for their own business situation and their individual challenges.
The key question of this paper is to identify the applications and technologies that will be relevant for SMEs in the future, to determine how these applications and technologies are currently used and what prerequisites are necessary for implementation.
The key findings can be summarized as follows:
- The following topics and technologies are considered to be of high relevance for SMEs in the future: Augmented and virtual reality, remote maintenance, chatbots and digital twins and overarching topics like artificial intelligence (e.g. image recognition, process mining, speech recognition), data collection and analysis, interconnectedness and sustainability.
- The use of these technologies is apparent in the practical examples. Particularly the field of immersive media (augmented and virtual reality) and AI are frequently included in the examples.
- If SMEs want to implement the above-mentioned technologies, a number of prerequisites are better to be met: These include, in particular, a positive and non-hierarchical corporate culture with a high level of problem awareness and a fundamental openness to innovation and change.
- In order to assess the relevance of emerging technologies for SMEs in the future, several key criteria were identified: a high level of market maturity, the lowest possible level of complexity in implementation, assessable/transparent costs, and the broadest possible application in various sectors and business areas.
- SMEs initially tend to focus on a specific problem rather than a technology. This emphasizes the importance of specific practical examples with a wide range of possible applications for technologies.
- In general, digitization technologies are used in SMEs, but there is still a considerable potential for expansion.