Strategy development in the digital age

Digital transformation Strategy development in the digital age

Published on 03.09.2021 by Prof. Dr. Marc K. Peter, Head of the Competence Centre for Digital Transformation at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW)

The FHNW School of Business study shows that Swiss SMEs are still in the process of digital transformation. The “Retail, sales and services” sector feels particularly threatened by (digital) competition and is not satisfied with its own progress related to transformation.

The third major Swiss study conducted by the Competence Centre for Digital Transformation at the FHNW School of Business focused on how companies are developing and implementing their strategies in the digital age (with a particular emphasis on SMEs).

The research findings confirm that only a very small number of Swiss SMEs have a digital strategy (large enterprises are more likely to have one). Only half of SMEs have developed a plan that sets out their digital strategic thrust over the next few years. In addition to the ongoing process of digital transformation, COVID-19 has also influenced strategy development. One third of SMEs think the digital strategies of their competitors represent a threat to their business. However, of this third, only a little more than half have their own digital strategy (see infographic). These figures are too low for a dynamic competitive environment; so there is great potential for discussions and planning workshops in Swiss SMEs.

The study also showed that the seven areas of action for digital transformation outlined in the earlier study ( continue to serve as a useful guide. Over the past three years, about half of Swiss SMEs have implemented measures in the areas of digital business development, customer centricity, process optimization, Work 4.0, data and cloud, technology and IT security as well as digital marketing.

The “Retail, sales and services” sector is in line with the Swiss average in many respects. However, when asked about the threat posed by competitors with digital strategies, an above average number of SMEs in this sector reported that they feel severely threatened (45% in this sector compared to the Swiss average of 33%). The retail sector is also, after the “hospitality, art, design and entertainment” sector, the least satisfied with the current state of digital transformation (28% of retail SMEs are unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with their own transformation). What’s more, the transformation measures taken in retail over the past three years are below the average for Swiss SMEs (on a scale of 7: Swiss SMEs 3.8, retail 3.4). It is therefore clear that the retail industry feels threatened by (digital) competition on the one hand, while also not being completely satisfied with its own progress on the other.

To help you plan strategy work at your own company, the FHNW and Strategylab project team have developed a digital toolbox including strategy templates and checklists for the 24 most important strategic questions to consider. The ACT method (analyse, create, transform) in the toolbox links strategy development in the digital age to the areas of action for transformation. A workshop canvas supports the strategy team and therefore helps SMEs to develop an up-to-date and successful corporate strategy on their own.


Due to the current situation, Connecta Bern will again be held as a digital event in 2021. Connecta is renowned for shining a light on the diverse nature of digitization and this year will be no different with content presented across the three formats of Connecta Blog, Connecta TV and Connecta Talk. Find out more here:


Prof. Dr. Marc K. Peter

Prof. Dr. Marc K. Peter is Head of the Competence Centre for Digital Transformation at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW), School of Business.

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