A digital plan for all: why the focus needs to be on people

Dead spots in rural areas, lack of technical equipment in schools, authorities who communicate by fax: things are not exactly going well with digitization in Germany.

According to the IMD 2021 Digital Competitiveness Index, the country fell from 15th place in 2016 to 18th place. What needs to happen for Germany to catch up with world leaders such as the United States, Hong Kong, Sweden or Denmark?

The corona pandemic has shown what is possible when everyday life no longer works as usual. Almost overnight, companies had to prepare their workforce for digital working from home. Homeschooling has become mandatory in schools – albeit with considerable start-up problems. Medical practices have discovered the possibility of holding consultation hours online and authorities have opened up to new contactless payment options. Due to the pandemic, Germany took a leap forward in digital development within weeks, or at least tried to take a leap.

Many impulses instead of a sensible strategy

There is enough state impetus to accelerate digitization and create a uniform base. With the DigitalPakt school, for example, the federal government is helping states and municipalities equip schools with modern technologies and teach teachers and students the necessary digital skills. As part of the hospital future law, the Federal Ministry of Health made available three billion euros last year “so that hospitals can invest in modern emergency capacities, digitalization and their safety computer science”.

Regional bills such as the Bavarian Digital Law define, among other things, digitization tasks of the Free State such as the promotion of digital technologies or the corresponding transformation of the administration. Citizens should also benefit from essential digital rights. At the European level, the European Parliament adopted a proposal for a law on digital services at the beginning of last year. The guiding principles of this regulation are common European rules for the treatment of criminal content by operators of Internet platforms. In particular, this should make it easier for the authorities to fight against illegal activities on the platforms.

Actions like these can be successful in their respective fields. With regard to a comprehensive digital strategy for Germany and later also for Europe, however, these are no longer piecemeal: loosely coordinated activities in which the authorities still exchange their information by fax, while on the other hand Globally active high-tech companies hold their position in international meetings by means of VR glasses. A seamless digital living space looks different.

Use digital change as a springboard

Digitization has been advancing rapidly for several years now and has triggered a fundamental change in many areas that goes far beyond teleworking and home schooling. New technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, digital platforms, big data or the Internet of Things enable entirely new business models that fundamentally change value chains, work processes and corporate structures. This will not remain without consequences on the daily lives of our fellow citizens.

To keep work and everyday life worth living in the future, we need a framework for society as a whole that supports seamless digital development, so that digital change proves to be a stepping stone for long-term economic progress and prosperity for Germany as a place of business. However, this requires an overarching strategy that combines the already existing large number of well-intentioned individual actions into a meaningful and assertive strategy. This digital plan must not only keep an eye on technological progress and the economic effects, but above all take into account the people who must not only work and live in the new digital world, but above all feel comfortable. Anyone who thinks that the digital potential is already exhausted with an online form and an application for making appointments online is underestimating the power of digital change, which, after the development of language and the invention of writing and of book printing, is also often called mankind’s fourth media revolution.

This is why digitization should not be seen solely as the business of ministries, authorities, municipalities or companies. It concerns everyone, especially citizens who have to live with the laws and regulations that have been adopted. Their opinions matter and therefore must be heard and taken into account before a digital plan is put in place and implemented. Businesses and authorities will need to think carefully about how everyday digital life should work for people. Which tools and which solutions to use and especially why? Because not all appropriate technologies will prevail. Digital change only has a chance if it is accepted by people who have to deal with and work with new technologies on a daily basis. In addition to computer scientists, it is above all everyone else. Let’s call them Max and Martina Mustermann.

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