Brave New World Fear of a Digital Future

The Internet of Things is fast approaching, and many German companies are unsure how to prepare for it.
Big data will soon drive the world.


Everyone is talking about the digitization of the world, the Internet of things, “Industry 4.0” or even “Economy 4.0.” German companies are taking up the challenges connected with digitization, but they face significant problems, according to the German Chambers of Commerce and Industry survey.

Only 27 percent of the 1,849 companies surveyed believe that digitization in their firm is “completely” or “almost completely” developed. More than two thirds, on the other hand, see deficits.

The survey identified a clear contrast beween large industrial enterprises and small-to-mid-sized companies. While all parties are concerned with data security, the smaller companies focus more on the risks versus the opportunities of digitization.

The growth of digitization puts added demands on employees. For companies, the two top qualities they look for in employees are knowledge about IT security and IT systems. Workers' familiarity with social media is much less of a concern.

The survey's conclusion is that “over the short or long term, digitization will take place in almost every branch. This means that all skilled workers employed there will have to acquire digital competencies in order to perform effectively in the future in their area of expertise.”

Digital transformation requires a fundamental cultural shift. Wilhelm Bauer, Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering and Organization

From a scientific perspective, digitization is, and will remain, a very important topic in the coming years. “The digital transformation requires a fundamental cultural shift. On the one hand, digital competency will be a key qualification in the future. On the other hand, companies must strategically integrate new technologies into their processes and open their processes of innovation,” Wilhelm Bauer of the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering and Organization told Handelsblatt.

Only these sorts of networks can give rise to dynamic and flexible solutions, business models and production systems. The networking of people, machines and things is in full swing and is impacting all industries.

One of the basic prerequisites for digitization is access to fast Internet. Some of the companies surveyed identify deficits in this regard.

Broadband connections vary according to the size of the firm. Among large companies, only 16 percent considered a lack of access to rapid Internet service to be a hindrance; across all branches the figure is 32 percent. The frontrunner in this regard is the hotel and restaurant industry: 41 percent of companies indicated that insufficient broadband access is preventing them from making full use of digitization.

Large companies respond to the problem of access to rapid Internet service differently than small firms. When large companies need a speedy Internet connection, they often share upgrading costs with the telecommunications provider. This is more rarely the case with smaller firms. For the most part, they work around the lack of decent broadband — or change their location.

Sixty-four percent of Germans have access to fast Internet, mostly in densely populated areas. The federal government’s goal is to have broadband access available nationwide by 2018.


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Klaus Stratmann covers politics from Handelsblatt's Berlin bureau. To contact the author: [email protected].