SMEs @ Industry 4.0: a comparison between top and average performers

  • Marco Bettiol
  • Mauro Capestro
  • Eleonora Di Maria
  • Stefano Micelli
Keywords: Industry 4.0; digital transformation; digital strategy; economic-financial performance; SMEs; comparative multivariate analysis


Purpose of the paper: This study explores the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies by small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), evaluating if firm’s economic and financial performances play a strategic role in the implementation paths.

Methodology: Through a quantitative survey that collected 366 questionnaires, the study used a multivariate analysis to assess the similarities and differences between two different groups of Italian manufacturing SMEs with respect to the adoption of Industry 4.0.

Findings: Despite some similarities in terms of adoption (technologies most adopted, most important motivations, and barriers of adoption), top performers show a higher adoption rate of robotics and big data/analytics, consistently with their orientation towards international competitiveness and the competitive strategies characterizing small firms (customization and flexibility).

Research limits: Despite the explorative purpose of the study, it is worth mentioning that it considers a small sample of manufacturing SMEs operating in different sectors. Future studies could investigate these comparisons, focusing on a larger sample or on fewer sectors.

Practical implications: Although the financial resources support and affect the implementation of Industry 4.0, especially in terms of intensity of investment, the digital transformation of SMEs is based on the firm’s innovation resources and capabilities that are the result of the firm’s overall strategy.

Originality of the paper: The research is one of the first studies that explores the effects of economic and financial performance on the implementation paths of Industry 4.0, with a focus on SMEs and with the aim to advance literature about the Industry 4.0 trajectories.


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