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“The demand for ethics in the digital industry is growing”

Interview with Matthias Wahl, President of the German Association for the Digital Economy, BVDW
Matthias Wahl, President of the German Association for the Digital Economy, BVDW

We are only a few days away from the start of DMEXCO 2019. How has DMEXCO developed in the past couple of years in your opinion?

Matthias Wahl: DMEXCO in its current form has been in existence for over ten years now, however, has grown significantly in the past couple of years. While the trade fair in its early years was a kind of class reunion of digital marketers, by now it has developed into a meeting place for the global digital economy. We see that the entire industry is in the process of digitizing, and that can also be experienced here at DMEXCO today. Trending topics such as Artificial Intelligence or Internet of Things are increasingly coming into focus.

Given this, how close is the trade fair still to the everyday business of the digital industry?

Matthias Wahl: It is precisely this closeness that sets DMEXCO apart and that makes the trade fair the leading event of the global digital economy. As the sponsor of the trade fair, the BVDW however has the responsibility to adequately represent the interests of the industry there. Our primary goal is at DMEXCO to put into focus the challenges and trends that significantly drive and engage the German-speaking and European market. We must embed these topics internationally, on the one hand to learn from developments in other markets, and on the other hand, to give international visitors insight into our experiences.

Which BVDW activities can we expect?

Matthias Wahl: A wide range of activities – in a nutshell: We invite visitors to take part in exclusive guided tours regarding highlights of the trade fair, offer agency speed dating for young talent as well as 19 different seminars regarding topics from the areas of digital advertising and digital transformation. At our Digital Lounge joint booth, we also offer smaller member companies the opportunity to present themselves at DMEXCO. A highlight of the first day of the trade fair is our young talent award – the Challenge Award. Here, in cooperation with CoreMedia, we ask young talent to submit their best ideas for brand presentation of the future. The finalists will be presented to the large DMEXCO audience on September 11. The winners, determined via live voting by the audience, will be flown to the Cannes Lions 2020.

The motto of DMEXCO 2019 is “Trust in you”. What role does trust play in the current context?

Matthias Wahl: With developments such as Artificial Intelligence or Internet of Things comes the requirement of the industry and the users regarding ethics in the digital economy. This is also expressed in this year’s DMEXCO motto. The industry is aware of its responsibility: The results of a study to be presented at DMEXCO show that the topic of ethics is of great or very great importance for more than 50% of the companies of the digital sector when it comes to the development of new products. The topic has arrived in the industry. As a digital association, it is our duty to initiate the corresponding discussions with the public, politicians and companies.

Speaking of trust: In the foreseeable future, the UK will leave the EU without a proper Brexit deal in place. How will this also impact the digital industry?

Matthias Wahl: Brexit will hit the digital industry particularly hard, since numerous branch offices and tech service providers are headquartered in the UK. The greatest challenge is likely to be found in the fact that after November there will no longer be a legal basis for the exchange of data between the EU and the UK. This will make any data exchange with the UK more difficult than exchanging data with Uruguay – a border wall that is almost impermeable for data.

What are the consequences for the digital economy?

Matthias Wahl: We are preparing our members that they will have to deal with finding alternatives until the Brexit date. Even if it is quite probable that a legal basis for data traffic will be created, we know from experience that such can take years rather than months. Hardly any company, and surely not the entire industry, will be able to afford such a standstill. That is why companies and branches of European companies are already moving their headquarters from the UK towards the EU. All in all, it remains to be said that the impact will be felt much more by the UK; however, we are still facing a great challenge.

Where does Germany stand when compared to the rest of Europe?

Matthias Wahl: The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) published by the European Commission in June shows the following: In Germany, digital transformation is progressing much more slowly than in the rest of Europe. In view of the integration of digital business solutions, 14 countries are ahead of the Federal Republic of Germany. In the area of broadband expansion, we barely rank eleventh. When it comes to the implementation of digital administration, Germany is completely falling behind: The index sees Germany ranking far behind in the antepenultimate place. In terms of the frame conditions, things are not looking good for the digital country of Germany. As Europe’s strongest economy, it should actually be our ambition and goal to also be at the forefront of digitization. However, currently it looks more like we will have to make every effort to keep mediocrity. These topics urgently need to be politically prioritized – we have fallen behind and cannot keep up. We must prevent problems such as poor network expansion from becoming even more of a limiting factor of our economy.

What has to change?

Matthias Wahl: Here, I see mainly two core issues: Firstly, digital topics must finally be prioritized politically. The DigitalPakt Schule [Germany’s Digital Pact for Schools] shows how it won’t work. If we remain this sluggish, we will fall behind internationally. Secondly – and this must be revolved mainly on a European level – we need a regulatory framework that lives up to the technical possibilities and that allows Europe to realize the full potential of digitization. DMEXCO this year shows in a very impressive fashion just how great this potential is.