Making Digital History Together Again in 2021

A year ago, I called for us to “take off together in 2020”. Like many of you, I had not only committed myself to quite specific goals for the year, but also a correspondingly busy schedule. I thought I knew when, where, with whom and about what I would be negotiating and planning right through to the autumn.

I don’t need to explain to anyone why things turned out differently. There is no question what the defining event was in 2020. I won’t even have to mention the C word. Among the minor concerns at the beginning of the unfolding crisis for me was that I needed to suddenly rethink the recently finished manuscript for my new (German-language) book on the seven skills you need to survive in the digital ecosystem. I had thought for quite a few months that it was actually completed when, then, the coronavirus changed everything. The manuscript had to be revised, and this at a time when even the very near future was uncertain.

Among the far greater concerns were the questions: Will we all emerge from this crisis healthy? And will we even have jobs then? Here are my thought so far. In times of crisis, people like to hold on to what still works. And the Internet and modern IT work, at least we could always rely on that. Both have done much to prevent the crisis from hitting us even harder.

Bio and tech go together like rock’n’roll

I know no more about vaccines than I’ve learned from my daily media mix, but one thing I do know: With Windows 95, the search would have taken longer. That a company called BioNtech, of all companies, achieved a decisive breakthrough does not surprise me. We live in a time when biology and technology go together like rock’n’roll.

Modern IT played out its advantages most obviously when the large number of knowledge workers moved from the office to working from home. This has been largely swift and seamless, not only for experts who have always been concerned with issues such as availability and scalability, but also for end users. Their expectations leave little tolerance for outages. Disappointments remained remediable exceptions. The bottom line is that the Internet has saved many industries from major slumps. Staying healthy and the keeping the economy going: Both succeed better with the Internet than without.

We should not sit back and relax. When eco, 25 years after its foundation, chose “Internet with responsibility” as our motto, we did not do so lightly. We are aware of the scope of our responsibility – and we believe in making a difference. We know that digital infrastructure is often critical infrastructure and that critical infrastructure is always a potential target for attack. If, in the middle of the pandemic, the IT systems of a major hospital were to be paralyzed by a (possibly even wrongly addressed) hacker attack, the damage will affect human lives.

IT security, and this has not changed in our anniversary year, is not a topic that can be considered settled at some point and checked off the list. This is why we are continuously optimising our existing offerings, developing new services – and providing numerous business sectors with facts and know-how that better prepare them for risks.

Combining the visionary with the practical

We always have the goal to combine the visionary with the practical approach. GAIA-X is currently perhaps the most visionary IT project. eco, as a founding member, is significantly involved in the development of this vision and at the same time is also very much involved on a technical level. But not only eco has invested a lot of time and knowledge in 2020 in building up a sovereign European data infrastructure, with each additional milestone reached the number of interested or already committed countries, companies, minds, and institutions increase – a clear indication that GAIA-X has what it takes to become a success story.

GAIA-X can become the basis for a sovereign digital infrastructure and a good digital future. The aim is to build on this with pertinent ideas and services. In this regard, too, eco contributed well-founded expertise with unwavering passion in the difficult year 2020. We’ve done a lot of work on the topic of artificial intelligence. Our AI project Service-Meister, which competed successfully in the German government’s AI innovation competition, has got off to a good start. One of our most important tasks and greatest strengths – this meaningful networking of the best partners – is also bearing fruit here.

As an association of the Internet industry, we have exhausted all technical possibilities in order to work closely together and remain mentally mobile even with limited physical mobility. We even successfully celebrated our eco://award 2020 wholly online. Nevertheless, I am very much looking forward to seeing all the faces of our digital community in person again in the new year, not only at the industry meetings that are sure to take place again, but also on many other occasions.

My wish for 2021 is therefore: Stay healthy – so that we can continue to make digital history together next year!


eco and DE-CIX CEO Harald A. Summa elected as Chair of the Organization Member Advisory Council of the Internet Society