Seizing the Opportunities of the Digitalisation Boost by COVID-19


The meta-study examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Baden-Württemberg’s digital infrastructure.

The digital transformation continues to be a much-discussed topic that occupies business, politics and society. But how well are the federal states managing to keep up with this rapid development? An evaluation of the digitalisation level in Baden-Württemberg shows that the state has made great progress since the adoption of its digitalisation strategy “digital@bw” in 2017. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this transformation considerably, but at the same time it has also revealed existing shortcomings. This is the result of a meta-study conducted by ZEW Mannheim on behalf of the state of Baden-Württemberg.

The emergency and lockdown measures imposed to contain the spread of the virus had severe consequences for the economy and society. Many companies have invested in digitalisation to enable their employees to work remotely. However, lost revenue has also led to fewer financial resources, so that some companies have scaled down their innovation activities. “Even though the willingness to embrace digital solutions has almost inevitably increased due to the pandemic, the potentials are not yet fully exploited, particularly in the areas of work, school and healthcare. But the economy and especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) also need further measures to increase their level of digitalisation,” says Professor Irene Bertschek, head of the Research Department “Digital Economy” at ZEW Mannheim and co-author of the meta-study. An efficient digital infrastructure is the most important prerequisite for this.

Based on numerous studies and data, the ZEW researchers conclude that Baden-Württemberg has made significant progress in expanding its digital infrastructure since the first evaluation of the digitalisation level in 2017. For example, a minimum internet coverage with DSL has been achieved almost throughout the entire federal state. For bandwidths above 50Mbit/s, however, rural areas in particular, where the majority of businesses are located, still have some catching up to do. The same applies to gigabit connections, which have so far been concentrated in the cities. In terms of mobile communications, the LTE infrastructure is well developed except for some blind spots in rural areas. The infrastructure for the next generation mobile communications standard (5G) is currently being created. 

In addition to infrastructure, cybersecurity is becoming ever more important as all areas of our lives are increasingly interconnected online. At the same time, the danger of digital attacks is growing. This can lead to both undue resistance to technical innovations and considerable financial damage for private individuals and companies. “Measures on the part of the state to increase cybersecurity, such as the newly established cybersecurity agency, are therefore of great importance to ensure the smoothest possible digital transformation in the future,” explains Bertschek.

The active promotion of future technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum technology is essential for the future innovation capacity and competitiveness of Baden-Württemberg. Cyber Valley, for example, a unique research centre for AI and intelligent systems in Europe that translates basic research into practical applications, has become a supraregional and international role model for a successful AI ecosystem. “The application of digitalisation to areas such as healthcare opens up new potential and also expands the state’s previous focus on the traditional automotive and mechanical engineering industries to include other promising fields. Another positive aspect is that digitalisation is being linked to ecological sustainability goals and accompanied by education and qualification measures,” says Bertschek.

The authors of the meta-study recommend that the state always keep an eye on national and European standards in its efforts to further advance the digital transformation. Furthermore, the success of individual measures should be evaluated regularly and subsequent adjustments or corrections made if necessary. “Digitalisation is an ongoing process that is driven by the emergence of new technologies and the change of economic and social framework conditions. Therefore, continual adjustments and, if necessary, realignments are essential in order not to lose the good position that has been achieved,” Bertschek summarises.

For the meta-study, the researchers reviewed a large number of studies on digitalisation in Baden-Württemberg since 2017 and analysed their results. The focus was on the topics of education and further training, e-government/digital municipalities, healthcare/medicine, mobility and the economy. However, cross-cutting topics such as research, development and innovation, digital infrastructure including mobile networks, digitalisation as an opportunity for sustainability and cybersecurity were also considered. Also included were recently added topics such as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on digitalisation, big data, AI, cloud computing and edge computing as well as blockchain.