Germany has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to digitization

For the second time this summer, the business magazine Capital selected the best digital laboratories of major German corporations. The innovation labs from Lufthansa, Linde, Daimler and Pro Sieben Sat 1 are best, according to a study. But Germany has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to digitization, as many say, such as Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, CDU General Secretary, or Gleb Tritus, co-founder and CEO of the Lufthansa Innovation Hub founded in 2014 in Berlin and a pioneer in many disciplines. talked to the serial entrepreneur, Business Angel and Innovator.

Gleb Tritus/Foto: Lufthansa Mr Tritus, there is too little awareness of the efforts needed to maintain Germany’s economic strength in a completely changed world for the future, said Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, CDU general secretary, to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung on 16 September. How do you see that?

Gleb Tritus: I agree that there is still too little awareness of the fact that the need for technological understanding and adaptability is no longer linear but disproportionately high. Fundamental changes happen faster than they did ten or fifteen years ago. Here, the business location of Germany is increasingly falling behind. At the same time, digitization is now being seen as a panacea and holy grail. The topic fits in pretty much any industry context and is constantly in the spotlight in the organizations, but also in the general public. At times, the essential working level of a company can give the impression that everything, apart from digital, no longer plays a significant role. Of course, this is certainly not the case – in the end, old virtues and competences must be transferred to a new age and digitally padded. Also the “Economic summit Germany” this coming weekend deals with the question: “Germany at a standstill?” … .Here also is meant the digitization. What about the area of aviation, actually a pioneer of digitization? What can be improved?
Gleb Tritus: It has long been rumored that, as one of the world’s leading business locations, we have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to digitization. This can be left as an intermediate report.
In the next step, you have to assess the status quo, opportunities and concrete options very differentiated and industry-specific. Especially in the field of aviation, but also in other, highly regulated industries such as health care or finance, it is obvious that digitization with the head through the wall can not work.
It is therefore very much in the interest of all concerned – especially the passengers – that civil aviation attaches much importance to “double bottom” and does not jump on any supposedly innovative train. At the same time, as the Lufthansa Innovation Hub, we understand our task of creating protected, non-safety-relevant open spaces in order to be able to experiment digitally and in a test-driven manner. All the major airlines that are seriously involved in digitization are facing this challenge, and there is definitely still room for improvement. Concreting is the ability to connect to the rapidly growing Travel & Mobility Tech ecosystem – keyword open APIs (APIs) – as well as the increased view beyond the horizon, where we, as the Lufthansa Group, now consider ourselves to be in the lead. As CEO of the “Lufthansa Innovation Hub”, you are driving forward the development of digital business models for the world’s largest aviation company. In 2017 and 2018 they were winners of the Digital Leader Awards with business models such as Lufthansa Open API in 2017 and in 2018. What is the groundbreaking New of these two business models, is it more than digitizing traditional processes?
Gleb Tritus: is actually the world’s first digital flight attendant – not just for Lufthansa flights, but for all airlines offering online check-in. Until then, such a service simply did not exist and the high level of user activity and satisfaction shows us that we are obviously having a nerve here. In the next step we will build around the check-in more useful assistance services. It is a true platform model that we put on the existing infrastructure of an entire industry – we do not even touch the actual check-in process on the airline side.

When we introduced the Lufthansa Open API in 2014, we were also a “first mover”: At that time, Lufthansa was the first airline worldwide with an open programming interface according to the market standard. To date, only 4% of all IATA airlines offer such an API, which explicitly addresses new emerging players of the Mobility & Tech playing field. At the end of the day, such an effort is required to provide this innovative company with a controlled and scalable connection to the Lufthansa world. And where are your current construction sites? What else can / must be digitized?
Gleb Tritus: Digitalisation runs like a red thread through pretty much all areas of an organization. The opportunities are accordingly infinite. As the Lufthansa Innovation Hub, we are currently focusing on very specific parameters of the travel and mobility chain, where Lufthansa can bring in concrete capital as well as capital – such as customer reach, specific data, aviation or loyalty know-how, a global, trustworthy one Footprint. Obvious areas in this context are, for example, the digital management of business travel or the reinterpretation of the term “loyalty” in the age of clearly changed customer needs. As part of the “7 to 1” program launched by Lufthansa in 2014, 500 million Euros were made available for innovations until 2020. How much did the “Lufthansa Innovation Hub” get from it?
Gleb Tritus: Unfortunately, we can not comment on our budget situation. It is clear, however, that since then the funds have been fed into a wide range of measures and projects in the digitization and innovation context. Naturally, as an Innovation Hub, we benefit from this by, for example, obtaining fairly regular start-up financing for our prototypes from the Group. Are the funds made available to you sufficient, or should Lufthansa’s entry into the venture capital business be increased now? Gleb Tritus: So far we feel financially adequately equipped. Especially for internal innovation and digitization projects we have an excellent initial situation with two flexible, responsive financing vehicles.In the meantime, we are not systematically pursuing genuine venture capital business in the tech context. Last year, we were able to gain very valuable experience with the first opportunistic investments of a strategic nature. The Lufthansa Innovation Hub is currently working on translating these findings into a systematic and scalable venture capital logic. The resources required for this are then, at the given time, a separate discussion. How do you work together with Christian Langer, Vice President Digital Strategy, Innovation and Transformation of the Lufthansa Group? What do the interfaces look like?
Gleb Tritus: The constellation is special and is being experienced for the first time in the Lufthansa Innovation Hub: Christian Langer is not only responsible for the digitization efforts of the Lufthansa Group, but also acts as the second managing director of the Innovation Hub next to me. The cooperation is accordingly close. Christian is understood as part of the team and has become an indispensable pioneer for our topics at the various interfaces in the Group. Conversely, it gives us the opportunity to play a decisive role in the digital strategy of the Lufthansa Group, which ultimately sets the guidelines for our work in the coming years. Regardless of the underlying theme, for most of the LIH team, which does not originally come from a large organization, it is extremely helpful to have someone with a deep understanding of the group at their side. So we are more than ever in a concrete, operational mode on the road, going well beyond the usual exchange. What characterizes the American startup culture and what the German, where are the differences?
Gleb Tritus: There are very significant differences. Two much-cited topics that are actually applicable:
1. Risk appetite is more pronounced in the US, both on the founder and the investor side. However, Europe, especially the ecosystems of England, France and Germany, has noticeably caught up in recent years.
2. The error and failure tolerance varies immensely. Many US founders are almost over-celebrating the fact that they’ve hit the wall twice before. German tech decision makers, for example, see this clearly differentiated.

However, we can not fail to realize that many well-known founders took two or three attempts to make something sustainable. The fact that they stumbled a few times along the way has often had a lasting effect on them and often opened up the one, golden opportunity. In this country, the term “failure” is clearly negatively connoted. In the end, the actual classification should be individual and case-dependent – as the US-American startup scene is definitely ahead of us. Incidentally, it has to be said that many industries are now looking more intensively at the Asian tech scene than at the US. In China, for example, the cultural stretch to the west is significantly greater than between the US and Europe. I am therefore very curious where the local, currently extremely dynamic tech wave will settle. Investors are significantly more than money spenders. We have long-term vision – and everyone who sits at the same table wants to add value, says Alexander Rinke of Celonis. You are yourself Business Angel. Do Americans tick differently here than Europeans or Germans, or do they also think so? What are your experiences?
Gleb Tritus: With regard to business angels operating in the tech environment, the culture of this manageable circle in this country is more American. This is positive in most cases. Such early-stage investors are above-average willing to take risks, often decide more person-related than topic-related and are immensely important networking machines in the sense of the mostly young and unknown startups who support them. This is not significantly different at first glance than, for example, in the US, where perhaps the volume is a bit more pronounced. From a capital account perspective, we have a good breeding ground here, at least culturally. However, there is a need for improvement in state incentive models and programs to strengthen Germany, a weak venture capital location that is weak by international standards. Diesel bans and air pollution plans of various major cities are changing the way people move, the infrastructure and the demands of the people who live there. Will there ever be an app that relies on intermodality and e.g. “Flight / Public Transport” connects?
Gleb Tritus: First, serious applications of this style already exist, such as GoEuro or Rome2Rio. The technological challenges behind the magic word “intermodality” will remain a thing of the past in 2018: today, more than ever, we are looking at a highly fragmented provider landscape characterized by proprietary IT solutions, which in many cases does not even offer standardized programming interfaces to the market standard. Especially the connection of public transport is extremely difficult.
At this point, we are currently working with our venture Yilu, which, among other things, is pursuing the vision of a multi-vendor market standard for digitally connecting mobility service providers and other service providers along the travel chain. Despite these adversities, intelligent and individualized networking of the ever-growing mobility landscape is absolutely essential in view of global population growth, increasing urbanization, and stricter environmental protection.

Interview: Johanna Wenninger-Muhr

Gleb Tritus is a serial entrepreneur, business angel and innovator with a passion for ecommerce, content marketing and travel tech. As managing director, he built up the search engine marketing agency Affaires Media, the local search engine Townster and the shopping club poshposh. Together with the ProSiebenSat.1 Group, in 2013 Tritus launched the Todaytickets ticketing platform, which markets live entertainment events via mobile devices.
He is currently driving the digital transformation of the world’s largest aviation group, the Lufthansa Group. As Managing Director of the Lufthansa Innovation Hub (LIH), Tritus was honored as “Germany’s Top 40 under 40 in Management” in 2017 and as the head of “Germany’s Best Digital Laboratory” by the business magazine Capital in 2017 and 2018. Based in Berlin, Singapore and Shenzhen, the Lufthansa Innovation Hub validates digital business models and creates strategic partnerships with startups in travel and mobility. As the co-founder of the initiative, which works for Lufthansa, SWISS, Austrian Airlines, Eurowings and Miles & More, Gleb Tritus builds the bridge between the global startup ecosystem and the multi-national Airline Multi from Germany.

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