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Opportunities for data and collaboration in SMEs

  • Thursday 2 December 2021
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Microsoft research conducted a few years ago showed that SMEs that base their decisions on the results of big data are almost twice as likely to be more positive about their financial future than those that do not. But Dutch SMEs rely less on data and data technology than many of their European counterparts, the same study found. "Many SMEs in the Netherlands are therefore missing out on considerable opportunities with data," concludes professor of Supply Chain Finance Michiel Steeman of Windesheim University of Applied Sciences. This is why the universities of applied sciences are now combining their strengths and knowledge in the SPRONG research group Opportunities with Data in order to increase the competitiveness of the regional area.

The research group has won an eight-year grant, with the aim of strengthening the position of SMEs in Gelderland, Overijssel and Flevoland by seeing, recognizing and seizing opportunities with data. Windesheim, HAN and several knowledge, talent and business partners are collaborating in this project. Through SPRONG grants, Regieorgaan SIA stimulates such collaboration between research groups at universities of applied sciences that have the potential to develop into a powerful SPRONG group within eight years. In addition to the universities of applied sciences, such a group consists of collaborations with all kinds of partners in the field, with the aim that this synergy of knowledge will contribute to solutions for current issues. In order to help SMEs with digitization and data issues, Windesheim’s Supply Chain Finance chair(opens in new tab) and the Logistics & Alliances chair(opens in new tab) of HAN University of Applied Sciences are sharing their knowledge and expertise with various (knowledge) partners, the education sector and the professional field in a joint research group.

How big is big?

"When you talk about big data, SMEs can be a bit wary", says Windesheim professor Michiel Steeman. 'big shoes (or data) to fill', as the saying goes. SMEs quickly think of collecting and managing gigantic data volumes and extremely expensive analysis tools." In short, too big for relatively smaller companies. "Yet you can't stay behind either, given how important that data is for running your business successfully," his fellow HAN professor Dennis Moeke adds: "Companies are not always aware of what this development means for them. And those who are aware or do feel the need for change don't always possess the relevant knowledge and expertise. It is precisely into this (knowledge) gap that we, the SPRONG group, want to jump, providing help and support."

Regional area and data-driven

And SMEs in particular, which do not have the numerous support troops of data analysts that multinationals have, feel the need for guidance and best practices. "Through learning communities and living labs we want to make these developments more accessible for institutions and companies, especially for SMEs. The goal is to create a sustainable connection between education, government and industry around the theme of data science, to boost the innovative and competitive strength of SMEs in such a way that SMEs in the regional area use us as an extension of their innovative capacity. The researchers are therefore building an ecosystem together, in which education, government, civil society organizations and the business community can easily find each other in the field of data issues. One way of doing this is by working together with the other professorships within the two universities of applied sciences, municipalities and the three provinces, domestic and foreign universities of applied sciences and other universities, and several (knowledge) institutions.

Bridge between innovation and professional practice

The focus is on practice-based research into innovation in goods, money and data flows, with the group bridging the gap between research and the professional field, providing support for the implementation or marketing of products and/or services based on all these innovations (via regional knowledge clusters), as well as closing the knowledge gap between prospective business professionals and data specialists, with special attention to professional education (at senior secondary and higher levels). The SPRONG group wants to do this by focusing on the themes: data practice knowledge, i.e. knowledge development through innovation by research; data competence, which focuses on lifelong learning and a range of services for professionals; data talent, with a focus on educational innovation within universities of applied sciences and the establishment of data science learning pathways from student to professional; and finally, data business, which is intended as a breeding ground or incubator for spin-offs and other new economic activities.

Opportunities for collaboration and data

On 2 November, the kick-off took place. A kick-off that will contribute to the application of data technology in practical organizations and help SMEs meet the challenges of creating (more) economic value using data. Challenges that were mentioned: insufficient awareness, lack of appropriate expertise, lack of leadership and vision, limited investment power and too little confidence in quality and consistency. "With this research group, we want to tackle these issues as an extension of their innovation capacity. We are creating opportunities for data, collaboration and knowledge sharing," says Michiel Steeman of Windesheim.

Professor Michiel Steeman of Windesheim


In addition, Windesheim University of Applied Sciences participates in the following awarded SPRONG groups:




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