In the last few years the debate on the impact of the new information and communication technologies (ICT) has shifted from the large firms to small ones, with particular emphasis on industrial districts Ceris' research has assessed how widespread ICT has become in the industrial districts of Piedmont (Biella, Canelli, Chieri, Cusio, Omegna, province of Turin and Valenza Po), involving all the companies with a turnover of over five million euros.
On average, the industrial districts in Piedmont make a significant use of ICT, with percentages that are higher than those of other Italian districts that are specialised in the same sector.
However, the ICT have spread different ways and depend on the characteristics of each firm as well as of the local system as a whole.
The most significant explicative variables are size and sectorial specialisation. Belonging to a group, particularly foreign ones, has a positive influence on the usage of ICTs, whereas the percentage of usage is not significantly higher in firms that export greatly.
Although it has been stated by many that the ICTs are a particularly useful tool for small firms that would enable them to recover a certain advantage on the large firms, our research has shown instead that the larger firms have currently greater incentives to invest and greater resources to take advantage of these investments.
Each sectorial specialisation has specific communication needs that can be supported more or less suitably by the ICTs. This partly explains why they are diffused differently.
However, a high technological level of the processes produces a company culture that is more prepared to accept and manage in an evolved way even technologies that are foreign to production, such as ICTs.
On a local system level we have seen that the space variable is not a significant one. On the other hand the organisational structure of the network of relations within the district is very much so.
The districts where the firms and the value chain are highly integrated, with a poor use of sub-suppliers, are those where there are more delays in the diffusion. The presence of large firms, which can be defined as such at least in terms of the local situation, is not sufficient to start up a diffusion process if it is not accompanied by a non-integrated organisation of the productive chain. The highly dynamic firms are more focused on the productive aspects and tend to postpone the problem of investing in a chain of rational communication. Thus the awareness of the importance of the communication channels is linked to the strength of the competitive pressure of the market where the firm operates.
There is a hierarchy in the adoption times in the districts that present a non-integrated filière, starting from the final producer. The latter, which can be defined as leader firms, have the task of investing in the necessary activities in order to adapt the generic technologies to the specific field of application. However, these leader firms do not have sufficient coercive power to impose their own technological standard, confirming the primary characteristic of the districts which are, despite the heterogeneity in size, systems where market power does not emerge.