A closer look at Spain's digital response to COVID-19

Published on: 07/09/2021
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This case study on the Spanish digital solution Acelera PYME has been written following the insights provided by Mr David Cierco Jiménez de Parga from Red.es in Spain.

Impact of the COVID-19 crisis on public services delivery in Spain

As one of the EU Member States having registered the highest number of cases of COVID-19, Spain is the first to have implemented lockdown measures on 9 March 2020. These governmental measures prevented citizens and businesses from physically accessing public services, making the use of digital solutions necessary for the continuity of their delivery.

In particular, the impact of the first wave of COVID-19 on the provision of public services for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and self-employed citizens was threefold:

  • Public services related to financial help and subsidy systems to assist SMEs and self-employed citizens were not disrupted by the COVID-19 crisis as these were already delivered digitally by the Spanish central and regional governments.
  • Public services related to assist SMEs and self-employed citizens in conducting their activities were moderately disrupted by the COVID-19 crisis. The challenges faced by the Spanish public administrations to deliver such services were twofold: to ensure the beneficiaries’ awareness of where and how such services could be digitally accessed; and to deploy scalable systems to manage an increased volume of requests.
  • Public services aimed at supporting the digital transformation of SMEs and self-employed citizens were severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The first wave of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown and stay-at-home orders made the digitalisation of SMEs and self-employed citizens a necessity for the continuity of their activities. In light of this, the programmes previously put in place by the Spanish public administrations proved to be insufficient.

Acelera PYME inception to support SMEs and self-employed citizens

The disruption brought by the first wave of COVID-19 on Spanish public administrations complicated their supporting role to SMEs and self-employed citizens as well as the continuity of their activities in a period of high uncertainty. In order to mitigate this, the capabilities of Red.es[1], through the Ministry of Economy and Digital Transformation[2], were leveraged to rapidly develop and implement a comprehensive solution to ensure the proper support of SMEs and self-employed citizens throughout the COVID-19 crisis: Acelera PYME[3]. On 17 March 2020, the project of a portal aimed at supporting SMEs and self-employed citizens was approved by the Spanish government and received support from the Vice President and Minister of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation. On 23 March 2020, the first version of the Acelera PYME was made available to the public, providing up-to-date information on national measures targeting SMEs and self-employed citizens as well as a catalogue of solutions from public and private organisations available to support their activities.

Development of Acelera PYME within the Spanish administration

The development of the Acelera PYME portal was led by Red.es and more specifically by a core team composed of 15 members of the organisation. The rapid deployment of the solution was enabled by the close collaboration of the Spanish public administration with private companies to provide solutions to be included in the catalogue. At first, the portal included about 20 referenced companies, while today it has almost 500 partnering companies providing solutions and services to SMEs and self-employed citizens. To handle the application of partner companies requesting to be featured in the Acelera PYME portal, a dedicated team was created following the portal’s launch.

In May 2020, the Board of Directors of Red.es approved the Acelera PYME Programme, which includes measures valued at € 250 million in the field of technological enablement for SMEs and self-employed citizens. This programme builds on the foundations set by the Acelera PYME portal and includes different initiatives with three main goals: to accelerate the digitalisation process of SMEs and self-employed citizens based on consultancy and training, to establish measures to support the creation of technological solutions for SMEs and self-employed citizens’ digitalisation, and to set up financial support measures for their digitalisation. This programme plans to expand the scope of the Acelera PYME portal into a full platform complete with online training sessions. As of December 2020, the portal had received over 530 000 visits and had more than 101 000 unique users.

Features and uses of Acelera PYME

The Acelera PYME portal, soon-to-be platform, centralises the measures and solutions available to help SMEs and self-employed citizens in ensuring the continuity of their activities during the COVID-19 crisis. The content available on the Acelera PYME portal includes up-to-date information on governmental measures and resources aimed at supporting SMEs and self-employed citizens such as financing schemes and subsidies as well as advice to ensure business continuity. Additionally, a repository of solutions and services is made available on the portal through a partnership with private companies to help SMEs and self-employed citizens mitigate the effects of the pandemic on their business.

The Acelera PYME Programme, which encompasses the portal but goes beyond it, aims to include three main measures:

  • Support measures to accelerate the process of SMEs and self-employed citizens’ digitalisation through consulting services and training. These measures include the development of eSkills through training sessions for SMEs and self-employed citizens, as well as the provision of career guidance services. Additionally, Red.es plans to deploy an Acelera PYME Office Network starting in 2021 with a forecast of 90 locations across Spain by 2022. The Acelera PYME Offices will be both physical and virtual spaces dispersed across the country to offer advice and support to SMEs and self-employed citizens, to assist them in their digital transformation processes and conduct awareness and support actions in this field. All services offered by these offices will be free for all the users.
  • Support measures for developing digital solutions for SMEs and self-employed citizens. These measures are planned for 2021 and include a call for projects on technological developments based on artificial intelligence and other digital enabling technologies (e.g. Internet of Things, blockchain and robotics).
  • Financial measures for SMEs and self-employed citizens’ digitalisation.

The Acelera PYME Programme is mainly financed with EU Funds such as the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF).

Key takeaways from Croatia on the rapid digital response to COVID-19

The rapid launch of Acelera PYME within a few days of its inception has been made possible by the preparedness of Red.es. The Spanish public administrations were ready, prior to the COVID-19 crisis, to work remotely and leverage digital solutions to ensure the continuity of their activities. It had the necessary capabilities in terms of budget, technological skills and governance to ensure a swift response to a state of emergency.

In order for Acelera PYME to become a success story, the team at Red.es has leveraged on cross-administration collaboration and public-private partnerships. In particular, Red.es continues to collaborate with the Chamber of Commerce of Spain and other stakeholders in the ecosystem to set up the Acelera PYME Office Network and with regional and local administrations in order to reach SMEs and self-employed citizens all over the country.

“We have learned about the importance of focusing on those for whom the programme is made rather than on who is responsible for the programme, and on what they need rather than on what we can offer. We have also learned that each step we take leads to another. This is why we are going to evolve Acelera PYME into a platform that serves as a meeting point for the ecosystem, including features and services, interesting and current content, solutions for SMEs, all in collaboration with the sector, the SMEs themselves, the companies that have offered to collaborate and with the Acelera PYME office network.”

[1] Red.es is a public entity of the Spanish Government attached to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation through the Secretary of State for Digitalisation and Artificial Intelligence tasked with the development of programs to foster digital economy and government.

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