Innovative. Creative. Fair? Chances and risks of the digitalisation
Special Dialogue Forum on 14 November 2018
Silicon Valley companies dominate the internet and are disrupting traditional business models. Companies that want to be successful in the digital start-up scene need to switch to areas where the internet giants are not yet well positioned. The Special Dialogue Forum at Munich University examined some promising alternatives in this context.
The example of a publishing company like the Süddeutsche Zeitung illustrates the degree to which traditional business models are under attack from digitalisation. "Google and Facebook don't produce any content themselves, but instead present third-party content and make pots of money from advertising." This was one criticism from Julia Bönisch, Editor-in-Chief at the Süddeutsche Zeitung. This is why the publishing house has had to change its business model. It has now established a paywall, and is focusing increasingly on exclusive content. Another problem is that each recipient in the online world is also a potential sender of information, which means that communication paths have multiplied. Bönisch said that, because there has been a significant increase in the number of digital services, it is becoming ever more difficult to retain users' limited attention span.
Emotional posts perform better
On the other hand, digitalisation is creating entirely new business opportunities. Munich start-up Usercentrics, for example, supplies companies with software that helps them meet the requirements of the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Managing Director Vinzent Ellissen explained that many companies initially thought that they would not have to make many changes because of the GDPR. But they now have realised that implementing the GDPR is a complex undertaking, and more and more of them are requesting Usercentrics services.
Potential for German start-ups
One example is in the sharing economy. "Apps from providers of mobile services allow me to get around without owning my own car," Ellissen acknowledged. "In this case, digitalisation has facilitated a business model that can make the world better." And in general, we should ask ourselves more often whether a planned business model will be of benefit to society.
One of the great opportunities in digitalisation is that it promotes democratisation in many areas. "Nowadays, everyone has access to knowledge via the internet, and it is also much easier to procure financial services." Similarly, collaborative work using the internet represents a huge improvement compared to the days when you sent individual Word documents back and forth by mail.
Legaltech offers great opportunities
But how should we deal with the power of the market, and the growing influence of the internet giants? Rieger believed education would be of little use here. This is because social media platforms are designed to exploit basic psychological mechanisms, such as confirmation from other people, or curiosity, to ensure that users stay as long as possible. "The human mind is a stationary target for anyone who wants to manipulate it," he pointed out. The only way to combat this, he argued, was to carefully investigate business models that were potentially harmful. And if the conclusion reached was that the manipulative power of individual companies had become too great, we should consider breaking them up.
Tech scene responds
So the idea could gradually gain acceptance that not every digital business model needs to be accepted by society. In the field of environment, it is already accepted that the transformation to the digital world has only just begun. It will be human beings themselves and social acceptance, rather than what it is technologically feasible, that will ultimately determine how successful digitalisation proves.
23 November 2018