Magazine article International Trade Forum

Morocco: New Roles for TPOs in the Digital Era. (TPOs in a Turbulent New Business Environment)

Magazine article International Trade Forum

Morocco: New Roles for TPOs in the Digital Era. (TPOs in a Turbulent New Business Environment)

Article excerpt

The industries and countries that are already aboard the digital train are finding themselves on the fast track to better export performance. But many firms in developing countries are reluctant to get on board for a variety of reasons, ranging from high costs, access and trust to the need to change skills, structures and approaches. TPOs need to reorganize internally and offer new services to help SMEs bridge the digital divide. They also need to cooperate more closely, particularly regionally.

The speed at which the digital economy is expanding and changing has widened the technological divide between developed and developing countries. Technological advances are redefining competitiveness at company and national levels and necessitating the development of new skills and new national export strategies to facilitate countries' long-term integration into the digital era.

The widening digital gap

Studies show a wide digital gap between developing and developed countries -- a gap that may grow in the years ahead as developed countries move to ensure themselves the best share of this fast-growing market.

Most Internet users still live in industrialized countries, where access costs can be just one-tenth of what they are in developing countries. Other factors that widen the digital divide are the cost and lack of access to telecommunications, and the lack of supporting infrastructure, such as access to finance, an adequate legal framework, training and government services.

Changing the business culture

As more companies integrate the Internet into their activities, purchasers and suppliers in developing countries will need to adapt to new operating methods. To control these changes, rather than submitting to them, companies need to decentralize decision-making and skills. This is not simple in many developing countries, where traditional notions of authority and hierarchy can be deep-rooted.

New TPO obligations

The strong growth of e-facilitated trade is encouraging developing countries to implement national strategies tailored to their needs, with particular support to SMEs. These strategies can only be implemented with the direct involvement of the public sector in partnership with the private sector.

The digital era demands a major reform of TPOs at all levels, including their operating procedures, structures, client relations and services. In many ways, TPOs are in a very similar situation to that of their customers. They are confronted with a new requirement, and must respond with speed, efficiency, innovation and flexibility.

Among the new roles of TPOs:

* Respond to the new requirements of an increasingly broad clientele.

* Change the nature of support for SMEs by offering advice on e-trade, electronic markets and marketing via the Internet, technological skills, etc.

* Contact SMEs electronically.

* Implement an interactive TPO/SME web site by developing databases on customers and their requirements, and by enabling companies to provide feedback on the site.

TPOs must adapt their working methods, reinforce their technological systems and create a new culture and new modes of behaviour. Although developing country TPOs may be ready to accept these changes, they continue to run up against traditional barriers: insufficient financing; shortage of qualified and motivated staff; insufficient client contact; and lack of understanding of the difficulties to overcome.

Meeting challenges

TPOs can meet the challenges of the digital era by adopting a long-term outlook and developing a national e-strategy to meet export targets. …

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