Understanding SMEs digitalization: a literature review of maturity models


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




In recent years, digital technologies have transformed the way large firms conduct their business, from strategies and processes to products and services. However, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have faced difficulties in fully embracing these technologies due to resource constraints and a lack of expertise. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the potential and versatility of digital technologies, potentially increasing SME entrepreneurs' awareness of digital topics. SMEs represent the beating heart of the European economy; therefore, it is essential to find tools to support their digital transformation. To guide SMEs in their digital roadmap, readiness or maturity models could be useful. However, existing research often lacks the proper perspective on SMEs. To address this issue, authors aim to illustrate the state-of-the-art digital maturity models for SMEs, through a review of existing academic knowledge. A systematic search, followed by a bibliometric review and conceptual review has been carried out to highlight and compare previous contribution to the topic. Since maturity models are multi-dimensional, major themes addressed in defining a maturity model or readiness model from both quantitative and qualitative models have been identified. The relevant dimensions were, then, reclassified and summarized into eight clusters. Digital strategy roadmap, employee skill and culture, organizational flexibility and adaptability, information technology, integration, customers, external environment, and, performance and benefits, are the major dimension identified in the review. A prominent attention of scholars and practitioners toward manufacturing and industry 4.0, is reflected in the existing model. It also emerges a focus internal dimension, that neglects external elements. Digital maturity models often take a vertical approach focused on manufacturing, hindering the development of comprehensive models to study digital maturity. Consequently, a future research agenda is also presented, highlighting the importance for future studies to build digital maturity model, analysing the specific context in which both manufacturing and service SMEs operate, and considering their peculiarities.