Business digitalization of SMEs in Albania: Innovative approaches and their impact on performance

Dissertation, European University of Tirana (2018)
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Abstract
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Albania, similar to other markets, operate in complex, fast-paced and unpredictable environments due to their size and nature. In our contemporary knowledge-based economy, business is constantly changing, and SMEs are thus continually faced with the challenge to find new and innovative ways to improve and adapt to the rapid transformations. As a result, there is a growing interest and necessity for SMEs to explore and adapt new and innovative mechanisms for better decision making, which will then lead to improved performance and competitiveness. Digitalization of SMEs with the use of Business Intelligence (BI) and Knowledge Management (KM) systems is one such innovative instrument open to SMEs for a better performance and increased competitiveness. The research for this doctoral thesis is then set precisely in this configuration whereby: on one hand the current level of adoption and use of advanced ICTs and technological innovation within SMEs, or business digitalization as will be coined later, is relatively limited due to a variety of factors; and on the other hand ICTs themselves as technological systems or tools as well as part of business landscape, i.e. ICT as a sector, are a major driver of innovation, modernization and growth for the Albanian economy. This doctoral thesis addresses the gap in the current state of research regarding the development, adoption and use of advanced ICTs systems, i.e. business digitalization, within SMEs. In addition, the research for the doctoral thesis expands the challenge to the impact of business digitalization on performance of SMEs in Albania. Clearly, SMEs have been selected as the central ground of research not only to contribute towards filling a research gap in management and ICTs studies in Albania, but also because of the central role that SMEs play in Albanian economy and their future potential in the digital world. The results show that business digitalization impacts positively the overall performance of SMEs in Albania. Size, age and location of the SME dominate performance and are related to the business digitalisation more than strategy. Also, the entrepreneurial characteristics of the owner – manager also impact the digitalization. Having a clear business plan was also found to be important when it comes to using BI. SMEs in Albania are a vital part of the national economy and the research shows that there is growing interest in ICTs, digitalisation, BI and KM, but innovation is still at relatively low levels due to financial and human resources, which are limited. However, the research highlights that SMEs are very flexible and easy to adopt to change and when this is combined with a visionary owner- manager they tend to move towards business digitalisation. Another finding of this study is that digitalisation have lead SMEs to reconsider and re-conceptualise their business models attempting to move towards innovations that impact performance. Also, the concept of business model innovations is also gaining ground in SMEs in Albania. Findings show that the use of BI and other digitalisation processes is mainly driven by strategic and innovation related motives that are internal to the company and the owner-manager. The use of BI as a result of external technological factors also plays a role. Analysis of the findings show that the use of BI and digitalisation have a positive impact on business performance. The findings of this research paper have practical implications for the SMEs sector in Albania not only in providing an assessment of the current use of BI, but also in exploring the benefits and potential usage of BI as a necessary activity for deriving improved performance. Findings of this research can be used by owners-managers to better understand how firms can engage with digitalisation and BI and how their adoption and implementation affect business performance. Another implication for business sector is that digitally mature companies have better performance and thus derive more revenue and become more competitive. Finally, the research shows that digitization has a variety of dimensions and can be understood differently by different SMEs, owner-managers and staff, but it is a major contributor to business performance. Future research is needed to explore further the role of digitalisation processes in SMEs in Albania particularly related to enabling and hindering factors. In addition, further research is needed regarding the business model innovations, particularly in terms of human and organizational factors. This study is one of the first research contributions in the case of Albania to analyse the impact of digitalization, specifically the impact of BI on SMEs in Albania.
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