Supporting the digitalization of SMEs through maturity models


  • Niccolò Ulderico Re Politecnico di Milano
  • Antonio Ghezzi Politecnico di Milano
  • Raffaello Balocco Politecnico di Milano
  • Andrea Rangone Politecnico di Milano



Over the past two years, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have faced a crisis due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The use of digital tools has been crucial for SMEs to mitigate the negative impacts of Covid-19, but they still face challenges in their digitalization path due to limited resources, skills, and know-how. To address this, policymakers and practitioner in the SME ecosystem need to understand SMEs' level of digitalization and develop strategies for their digital transformation: digital maturity models can help entrepreneurs and consultants to develop a structured digital roadmap that considers SMEs' resources and constraints. However, even if maturity models and readiness model are effective tools, existing models may not account for SMEs' unique characteristics being either developed for large firm or Industry 4.0 enterprises. Thus, researchers need a better theoretical understanding of the various stages of the digitalization process to account for the heterogeneity among firms' current digital states. Therefore, this research, building on pre-existent literature, aims to identify the elements necessary for developing a digital maturity framework specifically for SMEs. This qualitative research study uses a multiple case study approach, identifying 18 cases of Italian SMEs. The selection of the sample was carried out to consider the industry (manufacturing or services), the size (small or medium) and the geographical location (Northern Italy, Central Italy, Southern Italy), to grant a higher heterogeneity and to allow a better understanding of SMEs approach to digitalization. By departing from existing models exclusively designed for large or manufacturing companies, this research enriches our understanding of digital maturity models for SMEs. Based on the research carried out, a three-layer framework is proposed to illustrate the elements to be considered in the construction of a framework and their connections. The proposed model considers dimensions and elements related to SMEs integrated processes, relationship between SMEs and external actors, and the context in which they operate.