© Prof. Dr. Henning Vöpel HWWI

Hamburg Institute of International Economics founds new institute of digital economics

From Alster to Elbe: IDEAS@HWWI launched on October 1st. Prof. Henning Vöpel, head of HWWI, discusses move in an interview with Hamburg News

The Hamburg Institute of International Economics launched the Institute for Digital Economics and Applied Solutions (IDEAS@HWWI) Saturday (October 1st) to research the economic foundation and regulatory implementation of digitalisation. The objective is to develop “an integrated understanding of technology, economics, regulatorires which will serve commerce and politics as a basis of digital strategies of action”. An interview with Prof. Dr. Henning Vöpel, Director of HWWI:

Hamburg News: Why have you set up this new institute?

Henning Vöpel: Digitalisation means redrawing the world. Digital transformation is like an expedition to an unknown country for which we have no map. The success of digital transformation hinges on our understanding of technological, economic and regulatory interdependencies. Markets, competition and sectors are changing so radically and disruptively that we need research on digital economy to prepare commerce and politics for complex challenges. Digitalisation offers considerable risks and opportunities. It can fail also, if we do not understand it. But it must work to remain forward-looking. That’s what we aim to achieve with the institute.

Hamburg News: Can you give examples of your objective?

Henning Vöpel: Two things. We want to research the effects of digital transformation and kick-start concrete transformative projects at the same time. Branches and areas of life come together in this way. That means digitalisation can only work jointly and systemically. New solutions arise as well as regulatory requirements at networking interfaces. We wish to examine the interplay in a co-operative, interdisciplinary and experimental manner. The aim is to develop real solutions for commerce and administration.

Hamburg News: Who is behind the institute? How is it financed?

Henning Vöpel: The IDEAS@HWWI is a platform for science, commerce and administration. We wish to bring the logic of digitalisation together according to the relevant players and to work on new solutions. This is with a view to forming a co-operation for digital and urban transformation.

Hamburg News: HWWI aims to provide an interdisciplinary platform called Forum Bridges2Future@HWWI from 2017 for digitalisation issues in science, commerce, politics and civil society. Introductory speeches by international experts and top speakers are planned. Do you wish to attract visitors from all over Germany to Hamburg? Are you planning regular conferences?

Henning Vöpel: Yes, digital transformation can be imagined as a world where new bridges are suddenly built between all players to data – thus the name Bridges2Future. It will consist not only of lectures. There are many at present. It will rather identify teams from diverse sectors and interfaces and start working on solutions. We wish to establish a structure to promote cohesive thinking, exponential learning and systemic implementation. To do so, we also wish to bring international professionals to Hamburg for themed weeks.

Hamburg News: How will the new institute fit into the overall HWWI?

Henning Vöpel: The IDEAS@HWWI is entirely under the umbrella of HWWI. But it will develop its own research agenda and set up a specialised team.

Hamburg News: Why is Hamburg a good location for IDEAS@HWWI?

Henning Vöpel: The location of Hamburg is geared towards the medium-sized, the international and services, but is disrupted by digital transformation. At the same time, many sectors, living environments and milieus can be found in a confined space here. Hamburg can thus become a model region of successful digital transformation, which in turn sends signals to the world and attracts new talents and innovative powers to the city. In that respect, hardly any other place is better suited. HWWI can accompany urban transformation with special research from Hamburg.

Hamburg News: Will Hamburg benefit in any special way from the research results?

Henning Vöpel: Basically, yes. We want to extend the results of the basic local research and increasingly in experimental field research and interdisciplinary project developments. That can, of course, be done locally with all the relevant players in commerce and administration. A smartCity map, a digital map of Hamburg showing interfaces, catalysators and strategies of digital transformation could be a good prelude in such a development.

Hamburg News: Do showcase projects and industries such as 3D printing in the Hamburg Metropolitan Region serve as research subjects and as examples of developments in Germany and across the world?

Henning Vöpel: Networking with other technology transfer institutions in the metropolitan region is an explicit goal of our initiative. In that respect, it is perfectly natural to take 3D printing as an example and query it’s meaning for the metropolitan region, what structural change it triggers and how we can successfully implement that. 3D printing should be one of the most important digital innovations in Hamburg – the port and other sectors.

Hamburg News: You wish to examine and evaluate the potential and effects of new technologies. Digitalisation is going full speed ahead. The future has already arrived. Can any reliable statements be made on the time periods?

Henning Vöpel: The contemporary structural change triggered by digitalisation differs from previously as it faster. We also need new innovation systems to make economy and society more capable of adjusting. The working world, education systems and social insurance systems will have to undergo fundamental change. The challenge lies in developing new methods and deciding on sensible technology paths in economic and regulatory terms using experimental data. Metaphorically speaking, we are pushing the boundaries of technology further afield. We do not know what lies beyond, as we cannot control the direction and speed of change. But we can better understand and shape it.

Hamburg News: The reorientation of content goes hand in hand with spatial shift. The HWWI is leaving its seat in Hamburg-Harvestehude and moving to offices in the port for the moment. Are you sitting on packed bags? Where will the journey eventually take you?

Henning Vöpel: At the moment, we are in Baumwall in the city centre – as it were on the tranquil Alster Lake and the flowing Elbe. The urban environment is certainly inspiring. As an institute with a 108-year tradition, it feels like a start-up at moment. But that is good for us because we want to experience transformation like our DNA. Things will continue in a few months. Another move is in the works, which will prove another important step in our strategy and positioning.

Interview: Karolin Köcher

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