© Prof. Dr. Henning Vöpel HWWI

Hamburg is becoming capital of digitalisation

Hamburg could become a model for successful digital transformation in Germany, says Professor Henning Vöpel, Director of HWWI in a guest commentary

Digitalisation is the focus of attention nowadays and the importance of the digital revolution can hardly be overstated. The challenges posed consist of nothing less than transforming a system that leaves nothing as it is today. If that is the case, this redrawing of the world, former prosperity and the present competitiveness of established economies, regions and cities are at stake. Whoever misses digitalisation today is gambling the future for an unforeseeable length of time.

The logic of digitalisation necessitates the radical interpretation of the related changes, acting quickly and an integrated approach. Even more, the actuating technological leap to being able to store and link masses of data in future changes business models, sectors and markets. Rather it requires a society that functions completely differently, one that draws upon ideas and creativity immediately, and socially rewards trial and error as the downside of new, pioneering entrepreneurism – these are the basic requirements of digital innovation models.

“Knowledge attracts knowledge”

There can be no doubt that the hitherto successful German model of a technology-savvy and export-orientated middle class will be particularly hit by the combination of digitalisation and demography. Thus, it is even more important to understand and achieve digitalisation.

Cities can serve as models of digital transformation for commerce and society as this is where the natural conditions for digital, systemically networked, innovative processes can be found. Compressed activity and concentrations of knowledge can be found in cities. Activity triggers activity and knowledge attracts knowledge. Dynamic regions function according to these two simple laws.

Hamburg has excellent ways of showing that it has understood the new economy and especially the new, digital urban society. Whether it is urban mobility, cross-border logistics, international trade or education, health and culture: Hamburg has all the prerequisites for becoming a model of successful digital transformation in Germany. The city can become a lab for urban happiness, economic progress, environmental sustainability and a humane quality of life. The guiding vision for urban transformation is equitable participation, a perceptive community and courageous optimism about the future.

“Finding new solutions through networking”

However, to become a digital capital, Hamburg still lacks an organic compound that links up all the individual initiatives towards digital transformation. The microeconomic, partial digitalisation contradicts its logic. Only radical, new interpretations of existing structures will raise the overall potential of digital transformation and is a critical requirement for success at the same time. Only consistent cross-linking between branches, clusters and sectors, citizens and authorities, science and commerce, public and private spaces will create the new solutions, which we would not have found under the old structures.

The role of science is central to urban transformation. Hamburg will not generate the world’s knowledge, but it can guide the actors and enable them to find new solutions and practical innovations. Therefore, the important, but protracted development of academic excellence must always go hand in hand with knowledge transfer. If the city creates open spaces and co-operative structures for experimental research and interdisciplinary solutions, then Hamburg can become the German capital of digitization ahead of Berlin and Munich. The ensuing flow of creativity, creative minds and capital will turn the wheels of progress.

Guest commentary by Prof. Dr. Henning Vögel, Director and Managing Director of the Hamburgisches Weltwirtschaftsinstitut HWWI gGmbH

See also: Hamburg takes top position as digital city and Digital trends in logistics

A series of six articles on digitization has been published:
Part 1: Identifying and preventing cyber threats
Part 2: Craft sets course for digital future
Part 3: Local traffic gearing up for future demands
Part 4: Hamburg’s health sector going digital
Part 5: Hamburg’s book trade 4.0 experimenting in digital era
Part 6: Smart home technology in Hamburg

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