If Germany intends to use the transformation driven by digitalization in the coming years for innovation, growth and employment, then policy-makers must – irrespective of who is in government – also ensure that the right framework conditions are in place after the German election in September.
This is the only way that industry can contribute to Germany becoming a key player in digitalization. However, another important task will be avoiding overregulation. Ultimately, therefore, it will depend on the right mix of doing and not doing.
Data protection and IT security are paramount
Let’s start by talking about doing. When it comes to security, I think primarily about clarifying legal issues regarding data protection and IT security, as well as contract and liability law. Moreover, greater importance must be given to IT security itself. After all, one of the most important resources of German companies is our expertise and intellectual property. If it falls into the wrong hands due to hacker attacks or cyber crime, we could lose our pioneering role in important industries, such as life sciences.
In a recently published survey by KPMG entitled “e-crime in German business 2017”, 38% of the companies interviewed said they had been affected by computer-related crime in the past two years. And according to TÜVIT, the IT security company of the TÜV Nord Group, only 3% of all German companies are sufficiently prepared to deal with hacker attacks.
International legal certainty, as well as binding rules and standards, are thus all the more important. At least in Germany, relevant transposition laws providing for greater IT and cyber security have now come into force. But when these laws entered into force, German Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière also warned that in the next legislative period, further steps would be necessary in the areas of IT and cyber security since, ultimately, “information technology and digitalization are developing at a highly dynamic pace”.
Investing in high-speed networks
To ensure that this development remains dynamic, further investments in digital infrastructure must be made. In many studies, for instance the Innovation Indicator compiled on behalf of acatech and the Federation of German Industry (BDI), but also the EU’s Digital Progress Report and the OECD comparison, Germany is mostly only average or even in the bottom third when it comes to the availability of high-speed networks with fast data transfer rates, something I wrote about recently. Many companies based in rural areas thus cannot hold pace with their competitors in Germany or abroad, since they simply can’t connect to the Internet quickly enough.
“If tomorrow’s young professionals could get to grips with topics such as process automation and data protection, as well as with communication skills and teamwork while still in the classroom, they would be in a much better position to face the demands of the digital world of work.”
Teaching digitalization in schools
In my opinion, we must also do more regarding education if we want to prepare current and future employees for the new digital world of work. What is actually preventing us in Germany from introducing digitalization as a subject in schools throughout the country? If tomorrow’s young professionals could get to grips with topics such as process automation and data protection, as well as with communication skills and teamwork while still in the classroom, they would be in a much better position to face the demands of the digital world of work.
Due to the rapid pace at which the transformation of business and the world of work is moving forward, we have no time to lose. The future German federal government must make this transformation a key area of focus. Much could be done more quickly and easily if the responsibility for digitalization was consolidated in one ministry – with the aim of defining clear competences and strengthening the ability to take action.
The courage to take more self-responsibility
This brings me lastly to “not doing”. For me this means that the incoming government should allow business and social partners more self-responsibility in shaping the digital transformation. Already in today’s – and especially in tomorrow’s – world of work, flexibility is the measure of all things. The corset of the 20th century has in some places definitely become too tight. You only have to think about the wish and the technical possibilities to freely choose your working hours and location. Incidentally, this is something many employees expect. Of course, employers must also meet their responsibilities and obligations with regard to the welfare of their employees.
All things considered, we must strike a new balance between the interests and requirements of companies and those of their employees. At this point, the social partners in particular have a role to play. As President of the German Employers’ Federation of the Chemical Industry, this is number one on my list of priorities.
What awaits us after the election remains to be seen. I hope that the topics of security, infrastructure and education as regards digitalization are given their due place on the new government’s agenda. If the right mix of doing and not doing is then found, there will be a bright future in store for our country, our economy and our citizens.