The CeBIT computer and IT trade fair in Hanover is not only a showcase for digital innovation, but also a barometer of the economy. And things are not looking bad for the sector.
You could almost call it symbolic: After a long, cold winter in Germany, spring was finally in the air just as the CeBIT trade fair got underway. The warmer weather seemed to immediately raise the mood - something Europe's crisis-stricken economy could sorely use.
One of the trailblazers for an economic upturn in Europe could be the information technology sector: the myriad companies, large and small, in the IT and telecommunications industries.
While the rest of the German economy is slowly crawling out of its vale of tears, the high-tech sector has taken a big step in the right direction: Growth of some 1.4 percent estimates the industry association Bitkom, which could be a spark for the greater economy.
The sectors engines, however, are to be found in China for example, where the IT market this year is expected to grow by nearly 9 percent. In the United States, this figure is 6.5 percent.
Growth rates in Germany have seen been better days, pointed out Bernhard Rohleder, the head of Bitkom. "For our sector, 1.4 percent is not an outstanding figure, but compared to the performance of the entire economy, it is two to three times stronger. And, in light of the economic environment as a whole for the current year, it is a good reason to be very optimistic," Rohleder said.
'Engineering card' for Europe
Among businesses surveyed, some three-quarters of them expect rising revenues this year, while more than half want to hire new workers. For the first time ever this year, Germany's IT sector will employ more than 900,000 people. Only the mechanical and plant engineering sectors employ more people in Germany.
Of course, where there is light, there are also shadows. According to Bitkom, there are some 43,000 unfilled positions for IT specialists in Germany; of these, around half are for computer programmers.
Targeted immigration to Germany would help, Dieter Westerkamp of the Association of German Engineers (VDI) told DW. "That is a route that is also being considered. The VDI supports the introduction of a Europe-wide 'engineering card.' It would make it possible to evaluate the qualifications and experience of engineers, and enable a comparison between Spanish, Italian and German engineers," he said.
Rohleder, from Bitkom, also brought out another aspect of the tech boom. "Germany is not the land of their dreams for the IT elite of this world. And we need the elite here," he said.
Germanyhas well-educated administrators, but developers are missing, he pointed out. "We need to become more open to the IT elites of this world. We need to create an atmosphere that is attractive for Indians, Malaysians, Indonesians or Chinese so that they come to Germany instead of going to Silicon Valley in the United States," Rohleder told DW.
A relatively aspect in the IT sector is a stronger focus on security. Next to software development, this is where the most experts are needed. Security is a major issue for companies like Deutsche Telekom, the German telecommunications giant.
Deutsche Telekom Board Chairman Rene Obermann sees the future of large telecom companies in so-called "smart connectivity" and in crossover cooperation deals with Internet firms.
Obermann said in a DW interview that the company has demonstrated this at the CeBIT trade fair. Smart connectivity means, first of all, fast Internet access for large amounts of data; followed by more security, and finally, quality management for various services, Obermann noted.
"An email can arrive a second later, but a video conference is not supposed to flicker. The 'Net needs to be managed," Obermann said. "Smart connectivity and working together with innovative companies - that is a big array with a broad spectrum of services for customers, and everyone can benefit from that," he added.
Even if the halcyon days of the fair are behind it, CeBIT offers an excellent opportunity to get an overview on all of these issues. It's hard to imagine a digital world without CeBIT: The best evidence of that in Hanover were the more than 4,000 exhibitors from 70 countries at the trade fair.