Digital change is in full swing. Advances in technology are fast, and are changing the way we communicate, work, learn, and live. After the Internet, which connects people, we now have the “Internet of Things”, which networks machines both in our private everyday lives, as well as across companies in the economy. The change in the economy is referred to by the term Industry 4.0. This development opens up great opportunities, but also entails new uncertainties.
The changes are most evident in commerce, media, entertainment, and tourism. Online-trading places, news portals, streaming services, and booking platforms have changed, if not replaced traditional business models. The financial sector is currently in a state of upheaval. FinTechs and InsurTechs, i.e., young companies with cutting-edge technology are using innovative solutions to challenge established companies in banking and insurance.
In industry, the information and communications technology (ICT) sector is driving progress forward. According to the digital association Bitkom, for 2017 it is expecting an increase in sales in excess of 20 per cent with Industry 4.0 solutions. “The digitisation of industrial production is the growth topic”, it says. The greatest increase in demand is from mechanical and plant engineering, car making and the electronics sector. In particular, there is a call for IT services, software, and hardware.
Digitisation could, however, be slowed down by a lack of skilled professionals. The increase in the use of digital media in schools, apprenticeships, and universities is intended to counter this shortage. Professor Christoph Meinel, head of the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, is calling for a school cloud, to enable classes to be able to use the same teaching. He also sees potential for the greater use of massive open online courses (MOOCs). The Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) is regarded worldwide as one of the pioneers of digital learning. Endowed by Hasso Plattner, one of the founders of the German software company SAP, in 2012 it launched the social education network openHPI.de, which well over 100,000 students from 180 countries worldwide use. “I see digital education formats as an ideal addition to and asset for traditional education systems,” Professor Meinel says.
The worlds of politics and public authorities are also realigning. By 2020 a large proportion of state services is intended to be electronically usable. However, in the EU Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index, Germany currently only ranks in the upper mid-table of EU countries. The biggest challenge facing public authorities is improving online interaction between authorities and the public, it says. To date, a mere 19 per cent of the German population uses e-government services.
The Federal Foreign Office is successfully making use of the opportunities digitisation offers. It engages in open dialogue on all communications channels with a multitude of groups abroad, thereby exploiting the possibility of shaping and influencing the networked world. Digital diplomacy is thus becoming an important resource in network-oriented foreign policy with a focus on dialogue and exchange. However, in addition to the greatest possible level of networking, flexibility, and mobility the Federal Foreign Office also sets store by high technical and regulatory standards, in particular secure communication and data storage.
Data security and protection are already of major importance for the Federal government. The primary concern is finding a balance between consumer, corporate, and state security interests. In 2018 the EU General Data Protection Regulation is intended to harmonize data privacy laws across Europe at a uniformly high standard. The Federal government’s Digital Agenda 2014–2017 and the Digital Strategy 2025 specify further steps and tools for successful digital change. There are also plans to establish a digital agency, which in a similar way to The Bundesnetzagentur and The Bundeskartellamt will support and monitor the digitisation process.