From Cultural Change to the Startup Scene - Digitalization Affects Hamburg in Every Respect

© Senatskanzlei

For a growing metropolis such as Hamburg, innovative technologies are of paramount importance, especially when it comes to finding answers to important questions regarding the future and remaining competitive as a city. A better quality of life and a vibrant economy are the declared goals of the "Digital Strategy for Hamburg". With it, CDO Christian Pfromm wants to write the next chapter in the successful development of the Hanseatic city. We spoke with him about the status of digitization in the Hanseatic city as well as upcoming projects, and asked him why Hamburg is an attractive location for international companies as a forward-looking trading city.

Christian Pfromm © Senatskanzlei

1. What does digitalisation mean for the city of Hamburg?
Going forward, digitalisation will affect every part of society in Hamburg. We want to give the people of Hamburg a high quality of life and climate-neutral mobility or efficient online services, for example, will help us do that. Successful digitalisation is crucial to make Hamburg an even more attractive place to do business.

2. Where do you see digitalisation in Hamburg right now?
In Hamburg we were quick to recognise that IT and e-government are the future. Acting on that insight, we built a solid foundation that now informs our policies. The ‘Digital Strategy for Hamburg’, which we enacted early last year, is consistent with this approach. Here at the Ministry of IT and Digitalisation, we are closely involved in the process. Our vision has defined the goals and structures of the digital transformation, so we’re very positive about the status quo. This view is backed up by a variety of league tables and competitions, which invariably rank Hamburg high up.

3. What are the most important criteria?
We look at mobility and logistics, urban planning and development, business and government, technological infrastructure and data security … but that’s by no means an exhaustive list. Digitalisation basically affects every aspect of city life so you can’t approach any one area in isolation. That means you have to tackle a lot of projects in parallel.

4. Could you pick out a few current projects from the various sectors?
Certainly. One example is our Urban Data Platform, which we are evolving all the time. It breaks down data silos and enables the data sharing in and outside the city administration. Right now, it’s helping us to gradually establish a so-called Connected Urban Twin, or CUT, which is a digital twin version of the city of Hamburg. CUT is a joint project we’re running with Munich and Leipzig that should give us all sorts of new possibilities for visualisation and simulation, in particular in urban development planning. And in the mobility sector, we’re already running an experiment with autonomous, electric HEAT shuttle busses, down in HafenCity, the harbour district.

5. ‘No digitalisation without cultural change!’ What does that slogan mean for Hamburg’s government?
The digital transformation is a gigantic undertaking for everyone involved, and that includes city government. The Covid pandemic has accelerated the pace of this change, with most of Hamburg’s government working from home since last year. As with any process of change, we have to make sure our employees are completely on board and communicate what’s in it for them. That we’ve been able to do because digitalisation has made our internal work easier and streamlined our processes.

6. One of your goals is to make data more accessible. Can you give us some background on ideas like data governance and open data? How are you improving innovation from this point of view?
When it comes to data, our approach is “Share. Use. Protect.” Our Transparency Portal will make city data available to businesses, journalists and the public. By passing the Hamburg Transparency Law, we didn’t just establish a set of rules for open data, we actually made Hamburg Germany’s open data pioneer. Hamburg now hosts the GovData Open Data Portal for both the German national and regional state administrations. With regard to boosting our potential for innovation, the Urban Data Platform I mentioned before does that by bringing a variety of players together in one spot.

7. Start-ups are drivers for the digital transformation, and they flourish in cities like Hamburg. How do the city and its start-ups work together?
Hamburg has a growing start-up scene and support for new businesses is an action point for us. Which is why we want to intensify cooperation between start-ups and the city government and establish new networks. As current Chair of the IT Planning Council, we’re in a position to push for this at a national level.

8. What makes Hamburg a good location for international businesses? Why should they invest here?
Hamburg has always been a trading city as well as a centre for innovation and research. It’s attractive for business and a nice place to live, which makes it easy for companies to find staff and vice-versa. Here you have a combination of solid digital structures and strong logistics in the port and railways. At the same time Hamburg is the first German city to join the global Fab City initiative and we promote sustainable business practices at a local level. As Germany’s ‘gateway to the world’, we’re always open and in Hamburg Invest you have a state-run company that acts as a one-stop agency for investors looking to settle in and around Hamburg, so they can get everything they need in one place.

9. Digitalisation is currently one of the city’s biggest projects, and is set to remain so. Looking ahead, what will be the most important milestones for Hamburg?
Our Urban Data Platform already provides access to IoT data. In future, IoT and Big Data are going to have an even bigger role to play – in accordance with legal guidelines, naturally. CUT, for instance, is an innovative example for the beneficial use of data. Our intelligent mobility and technology infrastructure show Hamburg businesses that we are thinking long-term. As our interface with Hamburg’s citizens, our online services are always improving – as are we. After all, digitalisation means non-stop modernisation for the city government, too.