Towards a Multi-Dimensional Model of Digital Competence in Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises

Towards a Multi-Dimensional Model of Digital Competence in Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises

Dragos Vieru (Distance Learning University of Quebec (TELUQ), Canada)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch660

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To be competitive, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) need to develop new business strategies involving the utilization of e-business enabling information technologies (IT) (Ferrari, 2012). It has been shown that the ability of small businesses to innovate will depend heavily on investments made in IT platforms, the success of which, in turn, depends on workers having the appropriate skills (Ifinedo, 2011). Investments in IT are particularly crucial for an SME owner, partly because of their scale and duration but also because of their potentially important impacts on firm competitiveness. It would therefore appear that such competiveness could help the SMEs to successfully compete against larger firms and raise the potential of e-business.

While some SMEs have effectively engaged in Internet-based business (Dibrell et al., 2008), others have been not that keen to integrate e-business enabling technologies in their organizational structures (Brown & Lockett, 2004; Ashurst et al., 2011). The literature suggests that SMEs in general, have reduced human and financial resources (Bridge et al., 1998; Bengtsson et al., 2007) and are therefore likely to be less ready to change their business strategies. The ability to align business strategies with existing technical skills was found to have a significant impact on the level of IT adoption in a SME environment (Fillis & Wagner, 2005). Effective SME participation in the new digital marketplace will involve ongoing up–skilling and training. On one hand, SMEs need to adopt e-business strategies to keep up with the economy. On the other hand, they lack the human resources with appropriate digital competencies. But, how do SMEs’ managers know what digital skills they need for their workers? The lack of a precise understanding of what IT-related skills are represents a significant challenge in determining if SMEs have the skills and competencies required for the digital economy (Ashurst et al., 2011). This raises questions in regard to:

How to assess digital competence in the SME context? Whether or not there is a framework for digital competence evaluation in an organizational context?

The purpose of this article is three-folded: to identify through a literature review the key dimensions of the concept of digital competence (DC) in terms of the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed for firms to be digitally competent; to advance a conceptual model for digital competence assessment in SMEs; and to propose a research agenda for assessing the conceptual model in an SME context.



Competence has been conceptualized as an umbrella-type of notion wrapping almost every attribute that might influence performance (Bassellier et al., 2001). In the context of a 21st century digitized society, digital competence represents a “set of knowledge, skills, attitudes (thus including abilities, strategies, values and awareness) that are required when using IT and digital media to perform tasks, solve problems, communicate, manage information, collaborate; create and share content, and build knowledge effectively, efficiently, appropriately, critically, creatively, autonomously, flexibly, ethically, reflectively for work, leisure, participation, learning, socializing, consuming, and empowerment” (Ferrari, 2012, p.3). This long and detailed definition reveals that digital competence covers more than the plain know-how and technical skills, by including confidence and a critical way of thinking as well.

Key Terms in this Chapter

IT Skills: The ability to use the software and hardware of an information technology-based device such as a personal computer, laptop, or a tablet.

Core Competence: A combination of pooled knowledge and technological capacities that allows a company to leverage its resources in order to be competitive in the marketplace. It should also be hard for competitors to replicate.

Digital Literacy: The ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of information technology to locate, evaluate, use, and create pertinent information.

Competence: A set of related knowledge, skills and attitudes that correlates with one’s performance on the job.

IT Competence: The capacity to effectively use information technology functionalities to enable and sustain specific IT-enabled organizational practices.

Digital Competence: The ability to efficiently and critically use information technology for employment, learning, self-development and participation in society.

E-Business: The application of information technology in support of all organizational activities and processes.

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