Research and development

The role of information and communications technologies (ICT) in business and our society has radically changed in recent years. This is reflected in the themes of the Year of Science sponsored by German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Focal points like the “Year of Informatics”, ”The Digital Society” or the ”City of the Future” demonstrate the expanding share of ICT in the themes of dispute in today’s society. The main reason for their rapidly growing importance is the increasing confluence of information and communications technologies with one another, as well as with other kinds of devices or entire environments. At the beginning of the century, progress in the confluence of informatics and mechanical engineering was still thought of and described in terms of embedded systems and separately distinguished from progress in the Internet and mobile communications. The triumph of smart phones has largely merged and accelerated these trends. The massive propagation of sensors and actuators will increase the number of networked devices by 2020.

Meanwhile, at the level of business models and processes, these technological trends lead to an inexorable digitalization of the whole society. In the 1990s, areas that could be represented in a purely virtual form, such as administration, the financial business, and trade, were digitalized. Major sectors such as manufacturing and logistics, medicine and health, the energy transition and mobility are following via the current generation of cyber physical systems. The tight mesh of all of these sectors with those already digitalized leads to new business models and to a new paradigm of international competition and cooperation. Most recent developments in the domains of blockchain technology and artificial intelligence further boost this trend. Every individual step of digitalization generates an additional new set of data and contributes to the exponentially growing complexity of Big Data. This leads to new opportunities for analysis and linkages to all of the post-digitalized sectors.

While leading US providers are driving this development forward through digital commerce based on their dominance of generic ICT (Google, Facebook, Cisco, Uber etc.), Germany prefers to pursue a high-tech strategy of digitalizing traditionally successful sectors. The overall European research strategy moves between these two poles. However, the USA (along with China) meanwhile also perceives the importance of IT in an industrial setting (e.g. the Industrial Internet Consortium). Germany and Europe have recognized that they also need to expand their generic ICT core expertise in Europe, at least in the subsectors that are important for us such as industrial microelectronics and IT security and data protection. In the view of the Fraunhofer ICT Group, the same applies especially for the often-underestimated sector of software engineering including data management. Fraunhofer ICT calls for recognition of software engineering as an additional key enabling technology at the pan-European level.