Preparing for the second half of digitisation.
A plea from Johannes Winter & Jochen Werne
1st published in the German newspaper Handelsblatt on January 8, 2020 – translated by DeepL.com. Photos: Pixabay
Looking at the world sometimes gives the impression that things seem to be much better outside Europe. Examples? The world’s largest airport, Beijing-Daxing, goes into operation after four years of construction, while at BER, construction continues after 13 years. The coffee house chain Luckin Coffee, valued at $4.5 billion, will replace Starbucks as No. 1 in the Chinese market by the end of the year, two years after its foundation. Digital platform companies such as Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Tencent & Co. have left the traditional commodity and industrial groups behind in terms of value.
What made these American and Asian companies so big? Absolute willingness to implement at high speed, massive state and private investments, sometimes industrial policy intervention, huge, scalable domestic markets and a just-do-it mentality favour economic and technological development alongside a number of other factors.
Is Europe, on the other hand, in a downward spiral? Is the continent now losing the much-discussed second half of digitisation, which is mainly about the digitisation of industry, now that the B2C race seems to be lost?
The recent history can also be told in a different way. The financial crisis of 2008/2009 has shown how valuable Europe’s and especially Germany’s strong industrial core is. A highly specialised, excellent SME sector and the leading groups from mechanical, plant and vehicle engineering to the pharmaceutical and chemical industries are anchors of stability. With Industry 4.0, the vision for the future of value creation comes from Germany, and there is a worldwide competition for its widespread introduction.
The strength lies in product innovation, especially in complex products such as machine tools, medical devices, vehicles or building services engineering. Germany also has world market leaders in engineering and in production and automation technology. Despite all the negative predictions, Germany has further expanded its strength in networked physical platforms with the integration of IoT, data and services in industrial environments and has secured a very good starting position. The German research landscape also holds an internationally good position in areas critical to success such as semantic technologies, machine learning and the digital modelling of products and users. And let’s not forget that the companies in the country have produced outstanding software products for the fast, reliable and scalable processing of big data and the integration of business processes.
While Germany wants to consolidate its pioneering position as the world’s supplier, the USA is relying on its expertise as a global networker and China is relying on short decision-making paths, capital intensity and a large domestic market in which it can scale quickly. In this situation, it is important that we concentrate on our strengths and resolutely tackle the digitization of industry and SMEs. However, this requires a much faster entry into the emerging B2B platform markets.
In Europe, we stand for a liberal value system, both economically and politically, which, as in the past, has proven to be the decisive differentiating factor in the medium and long term. The debate on the use of data is conducted in Europe in good tradition at an extremely high level and this in the good understanding that digitisation is not coming over us, but is made by people and is intended to serve them.
It is therefore the right moment to take a decisive step towards the future and to open up Europe’s path. To do this, we need a large, homogeneous domestic market that will make us almost competitive with the USA and China. We also need substantial investment in digital infrastructure and cybersecurity, as well as training and further education. Both competitive regions currently have the power to set standards in digitization as well. The goal of the European Union to create a single digital internal market is laudable, but final implementation is still pending. This implementation, however, is the important and very concrete next step in order to be able to achieve the competition-relevant scaling effects and to be able to play a competitive role in data-based business model innovations.
The second half is running and nothing is lost.
About the authors
Jochen Werne (48) is a member of the Executive Board and Chief Development Officer of Prosegur Cash Services GmbH, as well as a member of the Artificial Intelligence Learning Systems Platform and the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House.
Dr. Johannes Winter (42) heads the office of the Learning Systems Platform and the technology department at the German Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech).