Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (Small and Medium Enterprise Agency)

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Japanese government and municipalities take measures actively to tackle with these issues as a part of SME business support program. In addition, business and NPOs contribute to provide various supporting service for SME business. Many kinds of regional organizations are established to support SME business and they provide information, consultation, and networking events. While a lot of service and information are provided, however, managers and employees in most SME managers are too busy to spare enough time to gather and use service provided for them. Aiming at effective information dissemination, government and municipalities provide information for SME managers via booklets and webpage, but a lot of SME managers are saying that they want government to provide such information along with instructions or case studies which show them how to take advantage of them. On the other hand, in the momentum that the environment surrounding SME business are drastically changing, support systems demanded by SME managers are becoming more complex, sophisticated, and specialized. As such, it was an urgent mission for the government to restructure SME support system and quick response to their demand is required. While use of the Internet is efficient and adequate way for provision of the system mentioned former, SME managers, in most cases, were not familiar with the efficient use of IT in Japan and introduce personal computer as business equipment (e.g. use Word, Excel, and Internet etc.), not introduce it from the perspective of a management reform. More specifically, they did not have a custom to gather information through the Internet. Key points with regard to the problem are shown below. ・It is quite important to revitalize SME business. ・SME managers are facing a range of challenges. ・Government provides information on support program for SME business through the Internet and booklet. Local agencies also provide practical support to SME business. ・In addition to public sector, information on support programs for SME business are provided by private sector as well. ・However, information is not delivered to SME managers in adequately. Or, sometimes they cannot take advantage of the information. ・While SME managers need to take advantage of “intelligence” to conduct management reform, there is no system and platform to share intelligence on a national level. ・In implementing the system, it is highly required to contrive ways since IT is not utilized enough in SME business at this point.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
Small and Medium Enterprise Agency (SMEA), which holds jurisdiction over SME business, considered that they need to establish a platform where SME managers are able to share information and intelligence that is highly demanded by them. Thus the purpose of the project is not to launch a website aiming at disseminate the measure to support SME business taken by the government. In the past, relative agencies provided information on support programs targeted SME business through their website. But as these support programs are individually announced and provided by the ministries, agencies, and prefectural and municipal governments that created them, it was difficult for SME managers to find the most useful information for them. In addition, from the view point to secure mobility and sustainability of the project, the project was launched with strong support of Japanese government and its operation will be transferred into private sector in the future. We put emphasis on mutual information exchange with relative websites so as to establish win-win relationship with them. The platform provides online consultation by specialists and actual assistance by support agencies. 1.Cloud system which enables information sharing among over one million SMEs and over 10,000 specialists, professional managers having knowledge and expertise, and relative agencies. 2.Approximately 200 local agencies provide support service for SMEs including consultation, sessions, and business matching etc. We aim at sustainable growth cycle by developing the system, for example, SME managers who are poor at IT can resister to the service as local agencies providing support service for SME business. At the same time, those who utilize IT can involve in activities held by local support agencies. We introduced “Mirasapo” to work as a platform to share information and intelligence with the functions mentioned above. Hoping that the project will contribute to support promising SMEs, we named the project “Mirasapo”; “mira” stands for “mirai” meaning future in Japanese and “sapo” stands for support. “Mirasapo” provides following services. ・Information provision(explanation of each industries & column) ・”Policy implementation map” on the “Mirasapo” website which shows policies implemented by government and local municipalities in Japan. ・Central and local government procurement information ・Electronic submission of support programs for SME business application via internet ・SNS ・e-mail newsletter ・consultation service by specialist ・introduction of application Although SMEs are not large enough in scale to have public relations department and sales department in most cases, they can find business partners through the service “Mirasapo” provides. In addition, “Mirasapo” offers networking service and support so that SME managers can gain business know-how for oversea expansion. As of this moment, over 50,000 SME managers have registered as a member of “Mirasapo” and the website recorded approximately 140,000 page views per a month. We plan to step up to the next stage to enhance the support system including quality and quantity of information, and functional improvement in the future.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
【A platform which provides support for SME business through the Internet and actual service】 Combining online community which utilizes Social Network Service on “Mirasapo” and local community which created by the local support agencies, we tried to make it easier for those who are poor at IT to involve in the project. 【A one-stop service site where users can search through a wide variety of support programs operated by the central and local governments.】 “Mirasapo” is a one-stop service site where users can search through a wide variety of support programs operated by the central and local governments. This service provides information on support programs for SME business and procurement information. With regard to the provision of information on support programs, we applied a common system which is shared by central and local government in Japan so that the data on the website can be used as open data. In addition, we applied the system to be able to automatically gather and analyze the data from the website operated by central and local governments. 【Extensive articles & essays written by people from public and private sector】 “Mirasapo” website disseminates various information such as column written by SME managers and interviews with government officials who are in charge of the support programs are posted on the website as well as information and overview about support programs.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
September 9, 2012 Small and Medium Enterprise Agency (SMEA) set up the study group composed by SME business specialists and IT specialists. March 2013 SMEA developed master plan for “Mirasapo” project. July 30, 2013 SMEA launched trial version of “Mirasapo” website. Main services provided were following. ・Provision of policy information ・SNS in which SME managers, business specialists, and IT specialists were participated ・Consultation by specialists August & September 2013 SMEA held explanation sessions and relative events such as business idea contests in various regions in Japan. Best practice of business collaboration in the SNS which swt up in the “Mirasapo” website. October 17, 2013 SMEA started “Mirasapo” website as a full-scale operation. Additional functions are following. ・Electronic submission of support programs for SME business application via internet ・Information sharing of business-oriented application which is useful for SME managers February 17, 2014 SMEA started delivery of e-mail newsletter through “Mirasapo” website. Daily e-mail newsletter provides basic and essential information in very short and simple format every day. In this way, SMEA tried to provide useful information for SME managers as well as lead them to visit the web pages where provide helpful information but gained small number of page views. As a result, it is possible for SMEA to provide SME managers who are not familiar with social media and the Internet with benefit of taking advantage of service and support program to support SMEs which are provided by central and local governments. June 30, 2014 SMEA started the service to provide “policy implementation map” which shows policies implemented by government and local municipalities in Japan. Each agency in various regions in Japan updates their latest information. SME managers can search through support information for SME business according to the regions and their purpose. August 1, 2014 SMEA started to provides one stop service on the “Mirasapo” website enables users to search through the public procurement in Japan. August 31, 2014 “Mirasapo” website recorded over 50,000 SME managers registered for its membership and the website recorded approximately 140,000 page views per a month. In this way, Mirasapo became essential information provision website for SME business. Website renewal is still undergoing.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
Small and Medium Enterprise Agency (affiliated agency of METI) SMEA is responsible for the “Mirasapo” project and is in charge of strategy preparation and project promotion. SMEA launched and run “Mirasapo” project, established working group, in which SME business specialists, SME managers, and support agencies throughout the nation were involved, aiming at promoting overall strategy with regard to promotion of SME business In addition, SMEA provides contents including information on policy and system they implement METI Information Bureau Involving in the project since very early stage of project planning, METI information Bureau examines how to implement the project and what service to provide in close collaboration with SMEA. METI coordinates to make the project coherent with IT policy of Japanese government. Organization for Small & Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation, JAPAN Having experience to provide information for SME business, the organization offers advice for the entire project as well as information & contents for SME managers. Local support Agencies Local support agencies hold briefing session and provide counselling service on “Mirasapo” portal site targeting SME managers. Also, agencies have front desk to introduce specialists or personnel with seasoned knowledge of IT management to SME business. DENTSU INC. (Contracted Business Operator) Dentsu Inc. makes a project proposal to SMEA, conducts promotional activities including explanation sessions and relative events, and develops contents such as system development and management.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The cost of building the website was about 7.7 billion Japanese yen in addition to the personnel cost to dispatch the SME business specialists and IT specialists as well as cost to hold explanatory meetings in a various region Human resources for implementing the “Mirasapo” website were three staff member from SMEA, two staff member from METI-information policy division, and five staff member form contracted business operator. We utilize the information and data possessed by SMEA as well as data collected by local support agencies. The contents to utilize these data effectively are provided by contracted business operator, Dentsu Inc. Technical resources are provided by Dentsu Inc. Dentsu Inc. built website and provide community service.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
○Best practice of matching service Through the communication on the “Mirasapo” website, a number of new business and partnership were created. There are many different types of best practices. For instance, a SME owner who needs a special processing technology for his product development visited “Mirasapo” website and asked told specialists about his concerns. In response to his concerns, an expert in the relative field gave him some advice on the “Mirasapo” communication platform and introduced him adequate processor. ○Community There are over 500 communities on SNS which “Mirasapo” provides. For example, communities sorted according to prefectures, theme, and many unique communities including community of women entrepreneurs and local revitalization community. ○Page views “Mirasapo” website recorded approximately 140,000 page views per a month. Considering the total number of SME managers in Japan, 140,000 is not remarkably large, the figure has been increasing steadily. ○Information on policies implemented by central and local government Not only information on policies and measures taken by central government, the website provides information on policies and measures disseminated by local governments all over Japan. At this moment, wide range of measures and support programs are registered in this website and users can search through the information according to the regions and their purpose. ○Procurement information Collecting procurement information from 4,000 public agencies, the website provides one stop service to search through the public procurement in Japan. Since the service is available to search the full text of procurement information, it is not difficult for SME managers to search through the information they need.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Our best practices with regard to community matching are introduced on the “Mirasapo” website and public relations materials. We clarify what and how to improve the contents of the website at the regular meeting. At the same time, we report weekly access data analysis including total number of PVs, who visited the website and from where they accessed to the website, and which pages were viewed and how long they accessed to the website. In addition to access data analysis mentioned above, we collected stats data according to gender, age, region, and industries so as to report user analysis. With regard to access data analysis, not only confirming which page gain page viewer the most and how long they viewed the web page, but also we take measures to lead page viewers to visit the web page where we would them to visit but gained small number of page views. Our measure includes introducing major contents on the top page of the website, column, and daily e-mail newsletter. In addition, we set up one-year contract with venders so as to be able to hear proposal from venders in a process of development milestone.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
A lot of local agencies had taken measures to support SME business for a long time, thus some of them were not favorable to work with us actively since they found part of the support service we provide are duplicated with what they offer. Therefore, we held explanatory meetings, listen to their voice, and made improvement to encourage collaborative relationship with them. We emphasized that “Mirasapo” will not replace their job operation, but it will be able to contribute to make their work easier and more effective. In this way, we could gain the understanding from local agencies that they can build win-win relationship with us. At the same time, it was quite important to make SME managers who are not familiar with IT to involve in our project. Thus we offered a number of ways to involve in the project including SNS and e-mail newsletter in addition to public relation through explanatory session, SNS, public relations magazines, and e-mail newsletter.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
Not a lot of SME managers utilized IT and relative tools effectively and efficiently enough, but the situation began to change after the implementation of the project since the project made them realize that IT can optimize management and workload. We think communities in the “Mirasapo” website have a big impact since it enables SME managers to get contact with firms and specialists across the nation as well as find consultants to find a solution to solve their problems and challenges. As not only SME managers but also specialists involve in the community, the members of the community actively discuss how to revitalize SME management and business operation. Actually, the fact that “Mirasapo” website is operated by the government made SME managers who are not familiar with SNS to feel secure and reliable when they consider involving in the community in “Mirasapo” website. However, the primary goal of the “Mirasapo” website is revitalization of SME business as a whole, thus a good use of the community in “Mirasapo” is insufficient to achieve its primary goal. In this say, we are required to strive to encourage the growth of SME business through the utilization of “Mirasapo” website. To achieve this goal, we provide helpful information for the SME managers that are eager to overseas expansion, such as how to make business proposals and project management plans in English. Previously, SME managers were in trouble when it comes to overseas deployment since they usually do not have many departments including overseas business operation department and sales force department. Another remarkable point of “Mirasapo” website is that SME managers are able to obtain support programs for SME business and procurement information. Previously, as the information on support programs for SME business and procurement are individually announced and provided by the ministries, agencies, and prefectural and municipal governments that created them, it was difficult for SME managers to find the most useful information. These impacts will be measured by reports by the specialists dispatched to SMEs, discussions in SNS, and access to a variety of information provided in the website.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
We consider that sustainability is one of the most important points in working for “Mirasapo” project since the early stage of planning of the project. As Mirasapo website is designed for SMEA、it is desirable to include the information provided by private sector. Therefore, we expect to transfer the management of the website to private business operator. For this reason, all the service and functions provided by “Mirasapo” website are designed that different operators can manage its contents and operation. We will provide the information provided through “Mirasapo” website, such as policy information, procurement information, as an open data so as to make our measures taken in “Mirasapo” project to be transferable. Releasing our information as an open data leads to build the website that is more specified and that meets the demands and needs of wide range of SME business. In this case, the information is collected through API.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
While it is common for IT-related projects to put importance on building IT system such as developing website, “Mirasapo” project is led by SMEA which is in charge of revitalization of SME business, and information policy division support them in solving technical problems. Decision making in how to prioritize and scale services is discussed in information policy division which is close to user vision. In addition, we incorporate the project with non-IT projects to provide wide range of support to SME business. We regard that partnership with private sector is highly important. As well as article written by government officials, we publish various kinds of articles and information posted by personals from private sector on “Mirasapo” website since they are close to SME managers and their message is easy to understand for SME managers. Intending to transfer management of the project to private sector in the future, the government supports the project during its starting up period. We regard this model is highly effective and remarkable point of this project and will be one of the best practice of the collaboration between public and private sector.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (Small and Medium Enterprise Agency)
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Eri Harada
Title:   Miss  
Telephone/ Fax:   +81-3-3501-2964
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   harada-eri@meti.go.jp  
Address:   1-3-1 Kasumigaseki
Postal Code:   1008901
City:   Chiyoda-ku
State/Province:   Toyko

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