People and digitalisation – an underestimated challenge

An interview with Dr. Jens Katzek,
Managing Director of Automotive Cluster Ostdeutschland GmbH

 
» As regards digitalisation, the automotive industry is one of the most innovative and progressive industrial sectors. What innovations and future trends do you expect to see?

 
One significant trend is flexibility: increased flexibility, such as through car sharing – or even by combining car sharing and public transport. So long as it becomes easier for providers and users, for example regarding payment terms, then I believe that we’ll see further significant changes in the sector, and enter into new business areas. In this respect, other developments by taxi services such as Uber are exciting. With connections between various actors in the mobility sector as a basis, we can expect significant innovations.

» The digitalisation of industry in Germany alone offers potential added value of €425 billion by 2025, according to the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Technology. The automotive industry aside, what other sectors stand to benefit from this?

 
If you consider purely technical professions first of all, then digitalisation is extremely relevant for all sectors in which machines or robotics play a role. That’s not just the case for the automotive industry, but in almost every other manufacturing sector. Take the construction sector: even there, digitalisation has an increasing role to play. For example, how should car parks be designed to enable automated parking? This requires the corresponding infrastructure to be developed, which naturally offers the potential for added value.

 

However, digitalisation is also creating completely new fields of work. Digital services are a huge market: new services are being created and existing services further developed.

 

 

It’s interesting, for example, to see how advertising has changed in recent years as a result of digitalisation, and how it will continue to change in future. There’s a significant transformation there. Digitalisation doesn’t just mean Industry 4.0 – in practice, it has implications for all sectors.

 
» You’re quite right: digitalisation is often combined with the term ‘Industry 4.0’. What are the most common misconceptions when it comes to Industry 4.0? Or rather: what precisely is Industry 4.0?

 
So yes, Industry 4.0 for me is “enhanced data mobility”. By this, I mean production data. It’s not just that more production data is created – this data is also more strongly connected to the value-added chain. Analysing this data makes it possible to optimise processes and to perfect quality assurance, but also to make better predictions, such as in terms of risk management. I would link that to the topic of Industry 4.0.

 
» Other pithy buzzwords related to digitalisation include ‘smart homes’, ‘smart cars’, ‘smart cities’ – what use are all these ‘smart’ technologies to society? Would you really rely completely on technology alone?

 
I’m not sceptical at all about this. And I’m firmly convinced that a smart technology, in whatever sector, will be implemented in that sector when it provides added value for the consumer. It’s quite simple: nobody is prepared to invest a lot of time and money if something is ultimately not going to be useful or offer added value.

 
» Digitalisation is often met by many with a certain scepticism, particularly where the question of safe digital services is concerned. What contribution can the political sphere make in future in order to enhance trust in digital services?

 
Naturally, there are significant concerns regarding digitalisation. People ask themselves: can I still be a part of it? How will it change my job? How will it change my life? These uncertainties are undeniable.

 
I see the political response as relating to Work 4.0, above all. In this context, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs – in conjunction with diverse social partners – has introduced a programme, with the guiding question: what can the political sphere do in order to combat the challenges of the future world of work?

 
In principle, the answer has two main aspects: on the one hand, the government can of course change the statutory framework conditions, such as in relation to the Working Hours Act. On the other hand, the topic of “qualification” is an important determining factor. In this case, qualification also ultimately means creating more flexibility. Above all, however, it’s qualification in the sense of “life-long learning” – we will only be able to respond the challenges of the future when we really grasp this buzzword and its implications for day-to-day working life, once and for all. We have to set out specific, practical qualifications drives. To do this, three model regions were established in Germany – Kassel, Leipzig and Düsseldorf – where examined are carried out to see whether the Federal Employment Agency can play an active role not only in advising the unemployed, but also in terms of qualifications and providing advice on qualifications.

 
» Numerous economic studies predict that up to 18 million jobs in Germany will come under threat in the next 20 years. Progressive digitalisation not only threatens unqualified workers, but threatens the middle classes and academics, too. Are people justified in having certain concerns when you say that digitalisation is going to cost jobs?

 
The fear that new technologies are going to destroy jobs is as old as innovation – from the weavers’ revolts [common in 18th and 19th century Germany] to the invention of the steam engine and the spread of PCs in the 70s and 80s.

 
Most people aren’t aware of this now, but when the Green Party first entered the German parliament, they banned their staff from using computers. Their justification was that this could lead to rationalisation measures. In this regard, the idea that “new technologies = job losses” is a recurrent phenomenon. It’s a fact, it happens every time. But in truth, the end result every time is that the opposite happens. Of course, there will be changes, and certain jobs will become unnecessary, but others will be created too.

 
However, we should make sure – and this is why the topic of qualification plays such a central role – that we don’t just let the people who might lose their jobs fall into a bottomless pit, we have to support them. I believe that’s vital.

 
Another point is this: if we want the idea of “Germany: industrial centre” to become a reality, we can’t simply carry on as we are. We can’t continue to use old production techniques that have been around and in use for ten years. That doesn’t make us competitive, and you don’t sell products like that. And if we don’t sell products, there won’t be any jobs. Disconnecting yourself from technological developments can only lead to an ageing industrial structure, and with it a collapse resulting in many more jobs being lost – and which is also more difficult to recover from. A good example of this is the Ruhr Valley when coal and steel production declined. More than 100,000 jobs were lost there, and it took 20 years to rebuild. We must not forget that.

 
» Angela Merkel has warned only recently that Germany is becoming a developing country digitally – as a result of excessive data protection regulations (Süddeutsche Zeitung). What do you think, are we Germans are too anxious about our data?

 
Yes and no. I think the whole data privacy discussion is often overblown. This leads to stricter data privacy regulations, which creates huge difficulties and burdensome bureaucracy for the parties involved. It starts with the simplest things: you just need to send a newsletter to 3000 recipients. Then, suddenly, the data protection provisions change and you’re back to square one. Every time, it takes a huge effort – and in the end, you need to obtain written consent from each and every recipient.

 
But then there have also been plenty of occasions where insufficient data protection has been exploited. Certain forms of data protection are absolutely unavoidable. As ever in life, it’s about finding the right balance.

 
» How are we as “Germany: industrial centre” positioned when it comes to the issue of digitalisation?

 
I think that we’re well positioned and have identified this topic early on – particularly in terms of production techniques. Digitalisation, and the aspects I identified as Industry 4.0, lead to amended production processes and therefore necessitate qualifications. That also opens up new fields of business. The more things that are digitalised, the more data there will be in circulation. This means: we have to find the balance between access to data, processing data and the right to have data destroyed.