Digital transformation of SMEs


As a Technological Interface Center for Digital Technologies and Production Technologies, ISQ's mission is to promote technology transfer and innovation in companies, including through certification processes, quality improvement and efficiency in production, support to innovation activities, access to technologies in development and training of human resources. 

ISQ is also a member of the Strategic Committee of the Portugal i4.0 Platform, the structure created to coordinate the implementation of the measures of the National Strategy for the Digitization of the Economy – Industry 4.0 Program.

For these reasons and as a result of its performance in the field, ISQ identified some barriers that currently arise to digital transformation in companies, which motivated the creation of the Digital SME project:

   I.   Limited experience of SMEs. Both in terms of knowledge of the implications of digital transformation and for the adoption of innovative Tools, Technologies and Methodologies I4.0 that support the optimization of processes and consequent reduction of operational costs.

   II.   Information asymmetry. The lack of information and asymmetric information in the different dimensions of SMEs on technologies and methodologies under I4.0 means that SMEs not only do not take into account the potential gains of their adoption, but also overestimate costs and minimise the corresponding competitive advantages, with a lack of clarity on the added value of digital transformation.

   III.   Insufficient technical capacity and competence. The vast majority of SMEs do not have the necessary capacity/competenceto identify, assess and carry out processes for the implementation of digital solutions. As a result, they end up prioritizing practices with which they are already familiar, or depend on the incentive of suppliers/customers/available financing (banking, community incentives, etc.), to bet on new solutions.

   IV.   Scarcity of data on the current state. Existence of information gaps in relation to the current state related to the stages in which SMEs are located and the distance to the I4.0 paradigm. The information is relevant to guide public policies, specific R&D activities and providing I4.0 solutions.

For all this, it is particularly important for ISQ to promote initiatives that accelerate digital transformation and the adoption of the I4.0 paradigm by SMEs. ISQ has privileged initiatives that seek to address identified market failures that translate into strong positive impacts on critical competitiveness factors.

The Digital SME project

The SME Digital project is co-financed by the COMPETE2020 programme and aims to empower, provide information and increase the business skills of SMEs for digital transformation, fostering the acceleration of the Portuguese Economy for a Digital Economy in automotive, materials, raw materials and commerce.

The purpose is to empower SMEs by strengthening the skills needed to address critical competitiveness factors, in particular in the field of innovation associated with digital transformation in the context of I4.0. Thus, it is intended to respond to a set of critical factors and market failures identified, which highlights the insufficient perception of companies regarding the benefits that will come from digital transformation and integration of tools, technologies, methods and business models I4.0. By encouraging digital transformation the project aims to boost business management best practices and more effective and innovative production and marketing methods.

The business dimensions to be addressed in the project include: Leadership, Omni-experience, Human Resources and Skills, Operational Model and Information.

Leadership: A set of areas allows SMEs to develop a vision for the digital transformation of services and experiences.

Omni-experience: This dimension describes a ubiquitous and multidimensional approach to the SME ecosystem needed to amplify the experience of products and/or services.

Human resources: This dimension covers developments in how SMEs will achieve their business objectives through the hiring, implementation and integration of internal (full-time and part-time employees) and external (contracts, freelancers, partners) resources.

Operating Model: This dimension describes the ability to perform more agile and effective operations, enhancing products/services, goods, people and digital partners. The Operating Model defines "how" the job runs in terms of digital transformation.

Information: Information transformation is the approach focused on the extraction and development of value and usefulness of information relating to customers, markets, transactions, services, products, physical goods and business experiences. Transformed organizations treat data and information as they would treat any other valuable.

ISQ promotes this project together with some partners in its network such as TICE. PT- Cluster for Information, Communication and Electronics Technologies and ESMAD- Escola Superior de Media, Artes e Design of the Polytechnic Institute of Porto.

the TICE.PT represents a strong knowledge of the entire value chain of communication technologies, also ensuring interfaces with SMEs, academia and R&D institutes. The Project also has IDC as a technical assistance entity. IDC's experience and knowledge of the international context and in supporting companies in digital transformation will also be essential to achieving the results of the project.

Entities such as Mobinov – Automobile Cluster Association, Platform Association for Sustainable Construction and The Portugal Mineral Resources Cluster Association, also represent project support entities that will facilitate knowledge of the ranks and contact with SMEs.

One of the most important outputs that the project intends to achieve will be the platform "HUB digital accelerator", which on the one hand will facilitate the support to organizations in the processes of digital transformation and digitization, and on the other the interaction between SMEs, the entities with scientific knowledge and the entities providing solutions.

As relevant outputs, we also highlight the provision of a tool for the evaluation of maturity for the digital transformation of SMEs in the business dimensions mentioned above; Formative and informative content; National and international benchmarking studies in the field of digital transformation; Information and awareness sessions for SMEs, as well as a competition where some SMEs will be selected for a detailed diagnosis of their digital maturity, which will provide a roadmap for digital transformation in line with their business strategies and business objectives.

Importance of the Digital SME Project for the National Economy

Europe currently faces important challenges related to the need to adoption the new industrial paradigm, industry 4.0 with different impacts both at the level of each member state, at regional level and at the level of the companies that make up the business fabric. Addressing these challenges with appropriate policies, incentives and mechanisms, focusing on innovation and I4.0 tools and technologies, results in greater capacity to generate local investment and, consequently, new jobs than.

Based on the Regional Strategy for Research and Innovation for Smart Specialization (RIS3) and sector studies – which constitute the reference frameworks for the definition of regional development policies in the North, Central and Alentejo regions – the project makes a strong contribution to the policies defined with regard to business competitiveness in structuring ranks. This contribution is the result of strong alignment with several priority areas of RIS3 National such as automotive, aeronautics and space; habitat; materials and raw materials, production technologies and process and product industries and ICT.

With regard to the intensity of impacts on critical local and regional competitiveness for the North, Center and Alentejo, we highlight some of the results that are recommended in the Digital SME project:

  I.   Change of behavior stemming from the importance of business management, supported by I4.0 tools and technologies, as a critical resource for competitiveness.

   II.   Training of entrepreneurs for digital transformation and implementation of Tools, Technologies, and Methodologies I4.0.

   III.   Promotion of a greater cooperative spirit between companies in the sector and between them and the National Technological Scientific System.

   IV.   The leverage potential among the satellite sectors of the rows studied, upstream and downstream.

   You're going to be here.    The ability to transferibility of the model of this project to other sectors and other regions.

   SAW.   The projection and visibility of the ranks addressed to the country, which is preparing for the adoption of Industry 4.0.

Importance of the Project for SMEs

SMEs are the backbone and the foundation of most economies and Portugal is no exception. However, in order to remain competitive, they must constantly adapt their products and services to markets that are constantly changing and accelerating due to technological advances and consumer behaviors. In addition, SMEs have the potential to be the foundation for sustainable economic growth if they are provided with the right tools and support.

However, in the context of I4.0, SMEs are often faced with constraints mainly linked to the high costs/risks associated with the necessary investment and the little information available on the subject. This leads to a lack of clarity on the part of entrepreneurs regarding the benefits of the adoption of I4.0 methodologies, technologies and tools.

Concerns about the lower operating costs of SMEs and the need to create differentiated products for greater competitiveness in a global market are too evident in particular in small enterprises. In these companies the minimization of operating costs is essential for a sustained permanence in the current market.

In this context, the digital transformation of SMEs is one of the main drivers of business competitiveness, proving to be a highly effective response to the adoption of new management practices.


The digital value chain will build on new business models supported by collaborative planning between customers, partners and suppliers. This innovative experience of co-creation with interaction between distinct parts should be oriented towards an effective digital response. This response should enable the coupling and integration of connectivity and management solutions capable of guiding SMEs in the continuous achievement of a more reliable, sustainable and more competitive business.

Taking on this challenge as well as understanding the current paradigm shift is fundamental.


ISQ is a private, independent entity that delivers value through integrated and innovative engineering, inspection, testing, testing and training services solutions.

Present in 14 countries and with 7 offices in Portugal, ISQ supports its customers in reducing risk, improving operational performance and increasing competitiveness. multidisciplinary teams that help clients to align their business objectives with applicable regulations and standards and in meeting their goals in the areas of quality, safety, asset management and environmental and social responsibility.

Industry, Technology and Innovation are the premises that guide the work developed by ISQ, which already has more than 500 international Innovation projects and more than 17,000 professional training courses.

ISQ supports industry development and innovation on a global scale, with service solutions for the Oil & Gas, Energy, Aeronautics and Aerospace, Process Industry, Health, Mobility and Smart Cities, Transport and Infrastructure and Agribusiness sectors.


Carla Guedes      |          | +351 919 211 647