How does the future work?

In our Data Mining and Value Creation project, we are now discussing future scenarios. Our colleagues from the group Professionalizing Knowledge Transfer Processes at Fraunhofer IMW, Inga Döbel and Annamaria Riemer, have invited us to a workshop on this topic.

by Theresa Wenzel

What can we expect? When I go to the conference room with the other team members – project manager Prof. Dr. Heiko Gebauer, Alexander Arzt, Dr. Sebastian Haugk, Sarah Neuschl and Sonja Ries – pictures of Professor Trelawney's tower room from the Harry Potter series buzz through my head. But even if it would be a nice change to working on my laptop – I doubt we will consult crystal balls and tea leaves.

So it is. Instead, there are colorful cards and pens on the table. Before we use them, Inga Döbel and Annamaria Riemer explain their working methods to us. They have already designed several future scenarios for areas as diverse as 3D printing and space travel. Inga Döbel explains how this works: “We collect information on our subject. This means comprehensive document analysis and data evaluation. In addition, we talk to people who deal with the topic or are affected by it. This means, for example, that we examine the structure of relevant markets as well as their growth and cost development. In addition, we examine the development of framework conditions and trends that can have a major impact on the field. From this, we develop key factors that form the basis for the various scenarios.”

Annamaria Riemer contributes an example: “Let's take the population figure. The development of the population depends primarily on the development of births and deaths. Spatial movements such as migration also play a role. However, it is difficult to make reliable statements about the long-term effects of demographic change, even if we disregard other possible influences such as wars, epidemics or environmental disasters. We cannot necessarily assume that birth rates and life expectancy will continue to be the same as we have seen in the past. It is even more difficult to estimate the future intensity and direction of immigration. All these factors influence our scenarios. In one scenario, we assume that the population will remain constant. In the next, we assume that it will shrink; in the third, that it will grow. This has different effects, for example, on the labor market.”

Are they predictions? Definitely not, they say. Rather, scenarios are thought experiments that outline possible “futures” by answering what-if questions. Although scenarios can be based on forecasts, some developments cannot be predicted precisely. The different scenarios help to better understand the current situation, to play through several possibilities for the future and to adjust to them. This results, for example, in strategic decisions in companies or recommendations for political action.

However, we don’t want to talk about future scenarios in general, but about future value creation from data. Specifically, we want to develop scenarios for this type of value creation in 2030. The status quo is important for the further development of ideas. That’s why we’re talking about the interviews we’ve already conducted with Saxony-based companies. What conclusions can be drawn from them? In order to process these, we finally need the cards. We write down our suggestions and then discuss our findings.

© Fraunhofer IMW

In our opinion, various aspects influence the creation of value from data. We summarize them into five subject areas: infrastructure, process implementation, data, economic framework conditions and mindsets (culture). Looking at our cards, we notice that there is often an insufficiency. The broadband expansion is not progressing, we miss creativity and ideas, the compatibility of different systems leaves much to be desired, and financial resources are lacking. It is no wonder that this often results in uncertainties and fears.

Companies do not know how their data can be used. They are afraid of unwittingly disregarding complex regulations such as data protection regulations. Some are afraid of destroying jobs. But we also see curiosity and opportunities. The continuing shortage of skilled workers makes digital solutions replacing human labor necessary in some areas. By using data, companies can open up completely new business areas.

Annamaria Riemer and Inga Döbel are satisfied. They can make something out of that. They propose a question on which the development of the scenarios will be based. “What does value creation from data look like in Saxony in the year 2030?” Project manager Heiko Gebauer does not entirely agree with this. “That's too narrow for me,” he criticizes. “I would rather ask about value creation in general.” That, in turn, is too undifferentiated for the two future scenario scientists. They are worried that such a study will not differ sufficiently from other existing studies.

The discussion now goes back and forth, but the two sides are getting closer and closer. At last: a solution! A unique selling point for the scenarios has been found. Of course, this will not be revealed yet. The report with the future scenarios will be published at the end of 2019. You can look forward to it!


You can find more informations on the Professionalizing Knowledge Transfer Processes Unit here.


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