The National IT Summit in Hamburg this week has given the German government good reason to think hard about its information technology policies. Chancellor Angela Merkel has already signalled that she gives high priority to areas such as big data, but businesses worry that she is not taking its IT policy seriously enough. The question likely to dominate the summit is simple: Is it time to turn it off and turn it back on again?
Ahead of the summit, Ms. Merkel told the parliamentary faction of her Christian Democrat party that Germany must take the lead in the “central battle” for big business, according to participants.
And that battle starts now it seems, at least online. Shortly before the summit, the German government heralded a change in course in Internet policies. Unlike with genetic engineering or fracking, it does not want to yield the stage to the skeptics.
When it comes to big data, it seems the issue of data privacy will no longer be in the forefront, replaced instead with the huge possibilities that information banks present. “Germany has the chance for a digital economic miracle,” said IT Minister Alexander Dobrindt in the German parliament. Representatives from the Social Democrats (SPD), which is in coalition with the Christian Democrats, agree. “We don’t need a fear-ridden debate,” said Sören Bartol, deputy faction leader of the SPD.
“Germany has the chance for a digital economic miracle.”
The change in course will be noticed in business, in particular by IT companies who want to earn money through cloud computing, networked household appliances, wrist watches or eyeglasses, or with health apps. Studies show that the potential is huge. The money invested by German companies in the so-called Industry 4.0 – the connection of machines to the Internet – is “well spent,” says Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser in a guest editorial.
Sales in this area alone could rise to €150 billion within five years. However, a key obstacle could be the current data privacy regulations, because in the end users must continually be asked for their permission. These differ from country to country.
Karl-Heinz Streibich, CEO of Software AG, has called for a uniform “single digital market in the EU.” Reinhard Ploss, the CEO of Infineon Technologies, has made similar comments in a Handelsblatt interview. He calles for an “effective partnership” between the authorities and producers in Europe.
Ploss’ message to Europe’s politicians: “If we don’t do it, others will.”
Hans-Jürgen Jakobs is the editor-in-chief at Handelsblatt. Jens Koenen, Daniel Delhaes and Joachim Hofer are reporters and editors at Handelsblatt. To contact the authors: Delhaes@handelsblatt.com, Hofer@handelsblatt.com, Jakobs@handelsblatt.com, Koenen@handelsblatt.com