Digitization in small steps

Small steps into digitization in Germany

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Corona should bring a boost to digitization – but administration and educational institutions are still rather poorly positioned. Experts are pushing the pace.

Selina Krakowski, an employee at the Fürstenfeldbruck health department in western Upper Bavaria, often made long phone calls with people infected with the coronavirus. At the same time, she enters many details into the long list of questions in her database program – for example symptoms, household size, age. This should not only record all corona cases in the Fürstenfeldbruck district, but also allow conclusions to be drawn about the disease later. In other words: How does this or that Covid variant work? How do age and gender affect the course of the disease?

Chaos in the health department without digitization

This would not be possible without digitization. Krakowski, in his early 20s, was just hired as a temporary worker when Corona came at the beginning of 2020 and caused chaos in the Fürstenfeldbruck health department, as in most of the around 400 German health authorities. Faxes in batches were evaluated and more than 100 folders were created: a Sisyphean work.The computer-savvy Krakowski and her older, team-experienced colleague Andrea Kriegner soon realized “that we cannot cope with a pandemic at this level.” So the two women sought advice from IT companies, at some point switched the computers in office, and other employees were trained. Apparently, there did not seem to be a master plan from a higher authority.

Digitization in schools depends on the individual

A similar pattern can be seen with digitization in schools. For example in the Simmerstrasse middle school in Munich. There are four so-called tablet classes there. In class 5b, for example, the young teacher Meike Fuchs works with her students on the subject of “ancient Egypt” via computer shortly before the start of the summer vacation. A short video about the world of gods at that time is projected onto the wall from the notebook via a beamer. Then the children create a profile of Horus and Osiris in groups with their tablets.”You learn reading comprehension, get to know important content, but also deal with the Internet and access pages there,” explains Fuchs. The young teacher gets along well with digitization herself and encourages it. However, there is only one voluntary system administrator at the school, who is mainly a teacher and hardly receives any compensation for his additional work.

Why is there no technical hotline for schools?

The vice-principal of the middle school, Birgit Dittmar-Glaubig, is about to retire. But as a functionary in the Bavarian Teachers’ Association, she wants to continue, and as such she is used to addressing problems directly. She is disappointed that digitization in schools depends on the commitment of individual teachers.A technology hotline, which many companies have long had, would also be ideal for schools, says Dittmar-Glaubigs: “I would like the city of Munich or the municipalities to have enough staff that you can call and that you receive timely help . ”

Finally a real digital ministry?

A guest in Berlin at Bitkom, the “Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media”. Bitkom is one of the most influential lobby organizations in Germany. The association wants to put pressure on politicians so that digitization proceeds faster – because then, logically, the affiliated companies also earn more.The association not only complains that Germany lags behind other countries in the public sector, i.e. in administration, in schools and offices, but that there is also not enough venture capital for IT start-ups. In addition, one urges that there be a real digital ministry after the general election. Fabian Zacharias from Bitkom demands that “it not only gets a doorbell but has real coordination rights and can play a strong role at the cabinet table”.

Digitization of yoghurt production

In Garching near Munich, the technical university is already simulating the future: conveyor belts in a hall send dozens of small glasses to filling stations. There yoghurt – in truth, it’s just bubbling water – is pumped into the glasses. Half a meter further on, globules in different flavors are conveyed into the jars by compressed air.A tall woman looks on, visibly satisfied. Birgit Vogel-Heuser is a professor and head of the Chair for Automation and Information Systems. She and her team are working on specific solutions for companies that want to control their factories digitally or optimize their production with intelligent data processing. They have already succeeded in doing this at the machine tool manufacturer Grob, the rolling mill manufacturer SMS or the chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer. That is why Vogel-Heuser is also relatively optimistic: “Germany need not be afraid of being overtaken by other countries in this field. This field is too strenuous for most digitization experts.”


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