'Cybermassif' or information up hill and down dale

A network of "Cybersites" and a panoply of shared tools are enabling SMEs in the Massif Central to learn about the Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).

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Context

Although administered by six regions and 22 départements, the Massif Central presents common characteristics, potential and handicaps. Following the 1985 “Mountain” act, a Massif Central committee was set up. This was later supplemented by a Massif Central inter-regional convention designed to support the area’s inter-regional actors and actions, with an allocation of EUR 85 million for the 2000-2006 period out of the “Fonds national d'aménagement et de développement du territoire français” and EUR 14 million out of the ERDF. It was in this context that, early in 2000, the CyberMassif project began to take shape, under the aegis of the Union of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of the Massif Central (UCCIMAC) and within a very broad partnership. The project shares its name with the sponsoring association.

One thing was clear at the time: there is often a world of difference between the vogue for ICTs and their application in response to the real needs of SMEs/SMIs, especially their production systems. Hence the interest of placing entrepreneurs in a situation in which they would be able learn to use and understand these technologies with the assistance of experts well-versed not only in the ICTs but also in the reality of running a business.

Cybersites

With this in view and to encourage the economic development of the Massif Central, which is home to prestigious universities and engineering schools as well as 50 000 companies, the initiative set about deploying a vast network of resource centres – the Cybersites – designed to promote the effective use of the ICTs within the various basins of activity. Also accessible to local elected representatives, teachers and students, the Cybersites provide SMEs with free broadband Internet access, online databases, software demonstrations, training forums, case presentations and services offering studies of business plans and legal advice.

The project drew support from a pilot experience in Saint-Etienne, launched at the initiative of the Rhône-Alpes Regional Council and with the support of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CCI), the Rhône-Alpes Production Pole, the “Ecole nationale des Mines” and the Jean Monnet University. Cybermassif also took its inspiration from an initiative to provide training and information for managers within networks providing support to local businesses, including mini-enterprises: Agoratech, set up in Paris at the initiative of the “Centre d'études et de formation des assistants techniques du commerce, des services et du tourisme” (CEFAC), which co-operates in particular with France’s 181 Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Shared tools

The Cybersites have access to a wide range of shared tools that facilitate networking and permit economies of scale. Examples include the network of ICT experts; partnership agreements with software publishers and hardware constructors; the “Content Publishing” pole that develops content designed specifically to meet local demands; the economic intelligence organisation that makes the Cybermassif project a genuine “learning tool”; the “e-learning” programme; the educational “frescoes” illustrating the role of the ICTs in SMEs, sector by sector and service by service; and VISTA, a system providing answers to two key questions: “What is the real impact of the ICTs on my company? and “How am I doing in using these tools?”

Results

In April 2006 about a dozen Cybersites were set up in the Massif Central. The first of these were located in the Auvergne region, which acts as network leader, and received support from the ERDF. The others mainly benefited from co-financing under the European Social Fund. The ERDF also co-financed the development of the “Publishing” pole throughout the Massif Central. Today the Cybermassif project is already having its impact on business life in the Massif Central and there is every likelihood that the initiative will spread to other regions.


Draft date

01/04/2006