Here's an interesting idea that comes out of work currently being done in rural Yorkshire to showcase the opportunities and benefits of the digital economy. Can local community partnerships help stop data breaches by providing accredited digital champions to work with local online businesses?
More significantly, can community groups, for example CICs (community interest companies) set up regionally-branded ecommerce platforms in order to re-invigorate local supply chains, bring suppliers together, and provide managed support. Whilst at the same time making money for themselves to be invested back into community causes?
A sort-of community-led trade association which provides strength in numbers; champions local suppliers, their products and services; and which supports the development of online trustmarks representing suppliers who have been validated locally. And digital champions have an important role to play in this local ecosystem by providing practical advice on digital/online business matters, including cross border e-commerce, essential Internet security, and how to prevent data breaches.
The curse of data breaches
Addressing data privacy and security issues is becoming an increasingly challenge to UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). For example, the proposed EU Regulation on Data Protection would require organisations to notify regulators of personal data breaches within 72 hours. Damage of this kind could range from identity theft or fraud, to damage to their reputation, loss of control over their personal data or a loss of confidentiality to data protection by professional secrecy. And serious data breaches could see business organisations fined up to 5% of their total turnover under the new proposals.
This is not good news for SMEs. Especially those that struggle to understand the choices available as well as the opportunities and benefits of, the digital economy. How can local SMEs not traditionally 'digital' build trust quickly with online users when they are competing against bigger, better-funded commercial brands?
There are more than 20 million SMEs in the EU represent 99% of businesses. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, there were an estimated 5.2 million businesses in the UK which employed 25.2 million people, and had a combined turnover of more than £3,500 billion at the start of 2014. Small firms accounted for 99.3 per cent of all private sector businesses in the UK, 47.8 per cent of private sector employment and 33.2 per cent of private sector turnover.
Clearly SMEs are a key driver for economic growth, innovation, employment and social integration. Yet, whilst our passionate love affair with everything hi-tech is one thing, knowing just how ICT and digital technologies can help enable traditional non digital SMEs at grassroots level is something else. We need to show them how to do cross border e-commerce well. Whilst at the same time finding other practical ways to power up local economies if the UK and Europe stands any chance of competing with other global digital markets.
And community partnerships may just be the answer!
Early findings from the EU Commission-backed DigiChampz Initiative show that we've barely grasped the opportunities and benefits the digital economy can bring to local businesses and communities.
So, if we can build proper localised e-commerce hubs (rather than the usual information portals), with suppliers validated, supported and enriched by local community groups featuring accredited digital champions, we can then start to look under the fabric of local economies to determine how they work... and then begin to ignite them with the opportunities and benefits they deserve.