Kassel. What are the main trends in digitization and what innovations will companies have to adapt to? Kai Jannek, futurologist and project manager at the consulting firm Z_punkt, discusses these issues in an interview.
Mr. Jannek, one of the key new aspects is the increasing digitization. What are the main trends?
One big topic is the Internet of Things, i.e. networking of objects. From the refrigerator that orders items on my shopping list, the mailbox that emits a signal when mail is dropped in it, to the carpet that reports if a senior citizen has fallen down – basically, everything could be connected to the Internet. A digital nervous system will emerge around us.
Moving on to the buzz phrase “smart home”. What will homes look like in the future?
In 2025 we’ll probably call everything constructed before 2020 an old building. In the future, buildings will be assessed on how well they can be controlled by apps with regard to air-conditioning, lighting or entertainment. That means the value added logic will also change: Concrete will then account for a smaller share of the value added than other parts of the building – just as the casing of a smartphone is less important than the operating system and apps.
What innovations will companies have to adapt to?
In production there will be “speaking” workpieces that send instructions to the employee’s terminal device. The factory of the future is a smart factory without a conveyor belt, where production and logistics are highly flexible and optimized. Industrial robots will be used on a large scale – they're already so cost-effective that they're even cheaper per hour than human workers – even in low-cost countries. Where people work in future, they’ll probably wear exoskeletons, power-enhancing suits, so that they can move larger loads. 3D printing will also change industry, since there will be many decentralized microfactories for local markets instead of one large plant.
What opportunities will the digital transformation create for the energy industry?
There are many conceivable applications. For example, energy infrastructures could be inspected even before the first sod is turned by being virtually presented to the observer in the real environment. Pipelines could be built bit by bit on site using 3D printing. And once they’re finished, drones might monitor and control them.
What about the energy supply?
Big data will be a major topic. Google has paid a gigantic sum of money to take over the thermostat maker Nest, possibly also to obtain the heating and electricity profiles of users. Google will soon know when you’re using your toaster because you always consume 1,000 watts at the same time. And if you suddenly stop doing that, Google knows that your toaster is broken and then Google or Amazon supplies you with a new one. Or Bosch Siemens Hausgeräte pays your electricity bill simply to find out when you need a new appliance. It’ll be like this in many sectors: If you wait for customers to come to you, you’ll soon have none at all. That’s why oil, gas or electricity will be given away in some cases or at least subsidized, because data is the new oil.
How can companies prepare for the digital future?
They should question themselves and their business model before others do so. Innovation doesn’t fall from the sky. You have to realize just how normal change actually is. Automotive manufacturers also used to make sewing machines. No one can avoid the need for investment. If you don’t or can’t invest in research and development, you’ll have to invest later in adaptation, because you’ll have to make what others develop suitable for your requirements.