How the Virus Is Forcing Us to Go Digital

Bitkom published a study yesterday about the state of digitization in the German economy. According to the study, only a good fifth of companies view the German economy as one of the top global players in digitization, around half see it in the middle and again a good fifth see it as a straggler. If the questioned companies had to give themselves a grade for their own digitization, it would be a C-, barely satisfactory. Now Germany’s refusal to accept digital innovation is starting to crumble.

Turbo digitization out of necessity

The survey was conducted before the corona crisis. A lot has happened since then. In just a few weeks, Germany has been turbo digitized. Even conservatively run companies had to throw their presence culture over board overnight and send their employees to work from home office. Suddenly teams are able to coordinate using remote tools and video conferences. And although remote access often had to be set up in a hurry and there wasn’t enough time to order the right hardware, many companies are surprised by how well it’s all working.

An acquaintance of mine is an HR manger and could literally not believe that she could continue doing 99 percent of her job from home. Her home office experience, however, was made possible by a fortunate coincidence: In the past weeks and months, paper-based work had been replaced by digital processes in her company. We can only guess how much easier the transition would have been if many other German companies hadn’t been rejecting digital work organization for decades.

Startups, on the other hand, have a much easier time transitioning from the office to remote working. Most startup companies already worked together digitally on a daily basis before COVID-19. You only need to be present when it’s actually necessary: In workshops, labs or other places that can’t go digital.

“A lot is going to change, if not to say everything.”

The current crisis is also accelerating the breakthrough of digital tools: More customers are finally paying with a card, smartphone or watch at the supermarket — even without contact. Restaurants have been forced to offer online food delivery. According to another Bitkom survey, two-thirds of Germans suddenly want online consultation with physicians. There is even talk about whether digital contact tracing should be used to contain the epidemic. A Fraunhofer Institute is working with the Robert Koch Institute on an app that voluntary participants can use to anonymously protocol their contact with others, which would make it easier to follow chains of infection.

German Vodafone CEO, Hannes Ametsreiter, also views the corona crisis as “the biggest boost for digitization in Germany of all time.” Phone calls in Germany have increased by 50 percent, internet data transfer by 40 percent. During the Bits & Pretzels Virtual Founder Breakfast last Sunday, he said:

“A lot is going to change, if not to say everything.”

The tendency of many Germans to be hostile towards technology has given way to pragmatic thoughts about the opportunities presented by digital technologies. All that was necessary to make that happen was a global pandemic of unforeseen scale. Let’s hope we can hold on to some of that in better times after the epidemic.

Simon Tischer

Seit Dezember 2015 schreibt Simon Tischer für Munich Startup. Vorzugsweise berichtet er über Studien, Hintergründe und von Veranstaltungen. Er studierte Soziologie an der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in München.

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