The Swiss economy will be audited. SMEs in particular must be up to the challenge.

Industrie 4.0 and international protectionism present Swiss companies with challenges. At the first Credit Suisse Entrepreneur Congress, figures from the worlds of politics and business discussed how Swiss SMEs can stay competitive.

Swiss economy should not rest 

Switzerland is an innovative country. As a small economic power, it has to be. Swiss SMEs are dependent on international trade if they want to grow. The Swiss domestic market on its own is too small for this. Accordingly, in no other country do companies spend more on research and development than here. With regard to innovation, Switzerland regularly positions itself at the top.

And yet, this spring saw Switzerland's downgrading in the IMD "World Competitiveness Ranking 2018" from second to fifth place. This makes you sit up and take notice. Therefore, the question of how the economy can react to the current challenges was at the very top of the agenda of the first Swiss Entrepreneur Congress organized by Credit Suisse.

SMEs are blocking out Industrie 4.0

Industrie 4.0 in particular puts companies to the test. New technologies, digitalization, and automation are transforming the economy and the work world. Unlike other industrial revolutions, however, the change is significantly faster this time. Even major corporations such as IKEA were surprised by the pace: "We saw digitalization coming, but not this fast," admitted Simona Scarpaleggia, CEO of IKEA Switzerland, at the Entrepreneur Congress.

Generally speaking, however, Congress participants agreed that large companies are increasingly aware of Industrie 4.0. The same could not be said of small companies. "Many SMEs are resting on past successes and are closed to new things," stated Regula Bührer Fecker. In her daily work, the co-founder of the Zurich advertising agency Rod Kommunikation often experiences that SMEs consider what they are doing to be good enough and do not event want to hear ideas.

International protectionism is hurting the Swiss economy

Industrie 4.0 is not the only thing presenting Swiss SMEs with a challenge. Increasing globalization is further exacerbating the competitive situation. Trouble from China in particular is looming. Not only are more and more Chinese nationals taking over Swiss companies, Chinese companies are also quick in the implementation of new ideas and technology. The Swiss economy risks falling behind.

At the same time, more and more countries are regulating trade. International protectionism is worsening trade conditions. As a politically stable country, Switzerland fortunately has advantages in this regard. "The good framework conditions and the Swiss legal system are extremely important," insisted Heinz Karrer, President of economiesuiesse. The many trade agreements also give the Swiss economy a head start.

SMEs cannot stand still

All this shows that the conditions for Swiss SMEs are good. They can still largely stay at the top. However, Industrie 4.0 will not pass them by. Thus, the call for more risk tolerance was heard often at the Entrepreneur Congress from the audience of more than 200 entrepreneurs. Stability is held high in Switzerland, but it should not lead to lethargy or a standstill.

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