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Industry 4.0: Blessing and obligation for SME Exporters

The fourth industrial revolution will upend our current understanding of export in the future, according to a new study.
Swiss technology
A hand holding a piece of Swiss technology

SMEs are in a good position to succeed – if they get going in time.

Under the future scenario of Industry 4.0, today’s value chains are turning into value creation networks. The basis for this is the exchange of data and the automation of production processes. As a result, companies can innovate and produce mutually, largely without inefficiencies between the organizations. A specialist is responsible for each process, irrespective of industrial sector, size or distance from the other members of the value creation network.

These interconnections are revealed by a study commissioned by Switzerland Global Enterprise, which was presented today at the Forum for Swiss Foreign Trade. “The flexibility and niche expertise of Swiss SMEs predestine them for the world of the fourth industrial revolution. Never before have there been so many opportunities to do business internationally,” says Daniel Küng, CEO of S-GE. “New creative business models make it possible to generate greater revenues while at the same time increasing efficiency in international business.”

Swiss SMEs in a good position – gradually adapt business model and international network

Today, the difficult currency situation has already led to a high degree of agility and efficiency on the part of Swiss SMEs. Their innovative capabilities, their high amount of industrial value creation, and the broad deployment of technology also put them in a good position for the fourth industrial revolution. Use has to be made of this potential in order to exploit the opportunities of the future scenario.

“Whoever doesn’t get on board with the fourth industrial revolution will be left behind. That goes not just for input suppliers from MEM and ICT, but also for all industrial sectors,” says Küng. “However, SMEs can proceed gradually. A CEO can schedule training for qualified employees for the very next day and designate an individual responsible for pushing ahead with digitization in the company. A second step is to use existing tools in order to digitize international business, such as through the Export Digital platform launched by S-GE and Google.” In the long term, the aim is to get to know customers better, both domestically and abroad, come up with new technologies and business models that go beyond industry boundaries, and venture the one or other experiment. Finally, SMEs also have to reconsider the relationships with their international business partners and competitors in order to create the foundation for the greater exchange of data and expertise. In addition, the more an organization digitizes, the more urgent the issues of security – keyword cyber security – and intellectual property become.

Concrete sales opportunities through investments in export markets

Already today, the fourth industrial revolution is advancing quickly in many of Switzerland’s important export markets. Regardless of product or service, industrial sector and target market, B2B or B2C, this is resulting in new business opportunities for Swiss SMEs that adapt their business model and products in a timely manner.

In particular, technology companies in the MEM and ICT sectors will have concrete opportunities to benefit from Industry 4.0 in the coming years. According to a study by PwC, EUR 40 billion will be invested in Industry 4.0 applications in Germany, a traditional core market, in the coming years. The technological trailblazing U.S. and the high-tech-oriented markets of Japan, South Korea and Singapore are likewise banking on the digitization of their industries. With their reputation for high-quality, precise niche solutions, Swiss SMEs can find success here.

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