Exploring Connectedness in Hamburg.

We spent a week talking to companies driving digital transformation in Hamburg, Germany, about the impact of increased connectedness.

Till Grusche
May 15, 2015

What can a city teach you about digital transformation in one week? We recently opened a pop-up studio in Hamburg to find out. We looked for stories and insights about ‘connectedness’ - the essential building block of digital transformation.

As we started to visit local businesses and digital pioneers, we found three themes that each confronted us with a fundamental question about connectedness;

  1. As our cities and homes will essentially turn from dumb infrastructure into smart environments, what strategy should we choose to manage this shift?
  2. To what extent should brands connect their digital and physical business and consumer touch points?
  3. How educated do we actually want or need to be as humans about our data-driven world of today?

Here’s a summary of answers and perspectives we found in Hamburg.


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Things & Spaces.

We came across two rather opposing ways to build our future connected cities and homes. First, you can prototype a smart home and then try to roll out a perfectly connected platform at scale. At the forefront of this strategy is Lars Hinrichs. Formerly the founder of Xing, Lars is now building Apartimentum, a preconfigured learning environment in Hamburg.

As an entrepreneur, he sees the residential development as a product that can eventually extend far beyond just one street in Hamburg. As someone invested in the future of Hamburg, Lars works with multiple brands to create new products – from a smart door to a connected shower – fitting everything into one space.

On the other side of the spectrum are Harald Neidhart, Stefan Woelwer and a couple of Woelwer’s university students. By injecting intelligence into already existing infrastructure, Stefan, a professor at HAWK University, worked with a group of students to invent Streetpong.

By turning crosswalk waiting times into an interactive encounter with pedestrians on the other side of the street, the group took a playful approach to urban interaction. Despite being small in scale, there are also good reasons to believe in this more agile approach to creating a smart environment.

Due to its long planning and building cycles, planners and the public will continue finding themselves hacking infrastructure before they can outgrow and replace it. Who actually knows what the iPhone 16 will look like, how it will function and what implications it will have on our built infrastructure? Knowing this, Harald, curator of MLove, is working towards transforming shipping containers in Hamburg into labs for developing smarter experiences using dumb infrastructure.

Brands & Channels.

Creating truly connected multichannel brand experiences is challenging – especially in a retail context where omnichannel experiences that transcend physical stores are the norm. But as we found when we visited Blume 2000, a leading German flower retailer, having stores and a digital presence under the same brand doesn’t mean you necessarily need to consider yourself a player in the omnichannel game.

While talking with Blume 2000’s CEO Florian Sieg, we learned that the retailer had separated offline and online businesses to achieve “channel excellence.” While the digital experience served largely as a gifting platform – mainly male users – the physical stores operate as a spontaneous pick-up location – mainly female users – appealing to different individuals and scenarios, ultimately rendering both the digital and physical aspects of the business largely autonomous.

Though a split between a longstanding physical store – Blume 2000 is over forty years old – and relatively new digital presence isn’t unusual, and the company is carefully testing how touchpoints can be connected, Blume 2000 serves as a good reminder that digital transformation transcends beyond the trendy. Really, different channels and features are nothing more than a set of options to solve someone’s problem in the best and most valuable way. For Blume 2000, this so far has been focusing their investments not on omnichannel but channel excellence, allowing for the growth of two entities connected by one brand.

People & Data.

When it comes to connected people and their data, you’re entering dangerous territory in Germany, one of the most privacy-sensitive countries in the world. Based on a general techno-scepticism and angst of manipulation and loss of freedom, Germans like to feel in control of their data. Few understand this more than Protonet, a Hamburg-based startup that builds personal cloud servers. The product is built for a time when small and medium-sized companies would move away from Google Drive or Dropbox to take back ownership of their data.

When we met founder Ali Jelveh, he also introduced us to Free Your Data, a newly-launched campaign meant to raise awareness and influence policy making. Though you may not agree with Protonet’s vision on decentralizing infrastructure, their push to get us more consciously interacting with data is an important driver to digital transformation.

Also rethinking how we interact with data is Diana Knodel. Her organization Appcamps is on a mission to teach children, particularly girls, how to code. Appcamps has developed school curriculums and self-teaching materials that teachers can use without any deeper training or expertise. With simple applications like a one-click fortune teller app, students build their first digital products (and show them off to their friends).