Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for development of small and medium-sized exporters in Latin America: Brazil
Antonio José J. Botelho and Paulo Bastos Tigre
Whereas small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) export promotion policies in Brazil (BR) are entering a second-generation, those for information technology (IT) are still in their infancy. We are still only beginning to gain an understanding of individual SME IT needs and uses. Nonetheless, we have not yet fathomed the possibilities for IT use in SME networks. Beyond the basic goal of achieving widespread dissemination, there has been little policy development in this area. In regard to broad dissemination, the new government initiative to develop cheap computers could be part of the answer, but that remains to be seen. Moreover, SMEs will still be faced with the problem of obtaining adequate software and, most importantly, qualified IT staff aware of the organizational and strategic challenges facing SMEs. On the other hand, export promotion policies are becoming more sophisticated and tailor made. The recent emergence of local/regional networks of exporting firms such as the High Technology Association (HTA) consortium, and the support given to them by Brazilian Export Promotion Agency (APEX), as well as easier use of export portals such as that of Banco do Brasil and export facilities such as those provided by Correios, are a few signs of gradual and important changes in policy. The scope of APEX support for these networks needs to be expanded to include development of IT tools to promote meaningful collaboration and to allow for interactive export activities. This would increase the supply of complete platforms in the case of high-tech sectors, thus capturing greater value-added and providing increased sustainability. Export sustainability is a critical problem that continues to plague SME exports. This has been correctly identified but still remains to be diagnosed, above and beyond the lure of the domestic market once the local economy recovers. Guidance and sustainability by anchor firms appears to be a promising avenue for both SME export capacity building and sustainability. Care is needed, however, to prevent a strong dependency relationship from developing. In this regard, experimentation could be pursued to involve first-tier suppliers in this support and learning network for export-oriented SMEs. The full potential of Internet-based instruments has not yet been fully grasped by promotion agencies. Full interactivity and high-quality graphical interfaces are critical for breaking into an overcrowded export market. Marketing is often weak or export capability lacking in exporting SMEs, either because of the type of specialized training needed, in the case of high-tech firms, or because of a lack specialized training in the case of traditional industry clusters. Internet tools can be employed effectively in building the capacities that are lacking.