The Future at Your Fingertips

CDU-Staatssekretär Storm im Interview

With the “SoKNOS Dialog” project, SAP aims to inject new momentum into the field of security research. Starting in November 2009, the project will take a closer look at how IT can be put to good use during major disasters. Alongside various IT companies, project partners include the fire department of Darmstadt, Germany; the district of Darmstadt-Dieburg; and the plant fire department of the pharmaceutical company Merck, also based in Darmstadt. The project is directly linked to the original SoKNOS initiative, launched in 2007, which brings together SAP and partners to investigate the use of effective IT support during disasters such as floods or fires. SoKNOS stands for “Service-Oriented Architectures Supporting Networks of Public Security”.

The goal of SoKNOS Dialog is to test the results of the SoKNOS project in practice within the Darmstadt area and to use the findings as a basis for further development. Support for the project comes from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). During the official kick-off event in Darmstadt, spoke with BMBF Parliamentary State Secretary Andreas Storm (CDU). What role does SoKNOS play in the German government’s security research program?

Storm: With SoKNOS, the goal is to develop IT solutions that give us better control of the chaos phase immediately following the onset of a disaster. Our overall vision is to provide comprehensive and integrated IT support for disaster and crisis management. This makes SoKNOS an important part of the government’s overall security research program. How important is it for a nationally supported project to achieve international visibility?

Storm: Natural disasters are a case in point in this respect, as their reach extends far beyond German borders. Time and again we see how forest fires, floods, earthquakes, and sadly terrorist attacks, make their mark around the world. If we can find technology solutions on a national level that can improve our management of these crises, it can only be positive – firstly by providing rapid assistance to people in danger and, on an economic front, by spurring sales of new technology.

This year’s CEBIT convention bore witness to international interest in the SoKNOS project, when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chancellor Merkel visited the stand together. With popular opinion putting information and communication technology (ICT) at the heart of almost all fields of innovation, shouldn’t there be even more support for this type of technology?

Storm: ICT is the number-one driver of innovation, as the Minister of Education and Research Annette Schavan said herself in her foreword for the ICT 2020 research brochure. Introduced at CeBIT in 2007, this program provides more than €1.5 billion in funding. We’ve also set up a special support mechanism called “KMU-innovativ: IKT” to specifically target small and midsize companies in the ICT industry. This initiative has already met with an extremely positive response.

A lack of funding is not the issue when it comes to the success of high-level research projects such as these. How do the various departments work together in practice?

Storm: So far, we’ve only talked about the federal government’s security research program – not the program of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The general management and decision-making lies with BMBF but all of the relevant departments are involved. Just a few days ago, Ms Schavan and the Federal Minister of the Interior Mr Schäuble announced a joint support effort that will provide €30 million of funding for IT security research over the next few years. What do you think of SAP’s research activities in Darmstadt? How important is this research for the region?

Storm: Darmstadt’s Technical University and University of Applied Sciences, along with the area’s IT companies, provide an ideal research environment. I very much welcome the research efforts of SAP and scientific institutions in the area, particularly the opening of another “living lab” in Darmstadt last year. This is a place where you can really experience future innovation at your fingertips. SAP has been instrumental in promoting the cutting-edge cluster “Software Innovation for the Digital Enterprise”, which brings together companies and research institutions from the German states of Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Saarland. What impact will this type of cluster approach have on future research policy on a national and European level?

Storm: In the current climate all innovations, particularly software, have to keep an eye on the global markets. Success only comes with considerable strength and stamina. To survive the international competition, it makes sense to promote areas that are already thriving and help them to flourish further. The cluster approach used in the BMBF’s excellence cluster competition is an ideal way to achieve this.

In terms of the “Software Innovation for the Digital Enterprise” cluster that SAP is involved in, I’m delighted it has made it through to the second round of the competition and hope that it will feature in the final line-up of winners. What do you see as the major targets for IT research in the future? And how important is security research in this environment?

Storm: Right now the semantic Internet and the Internet of Things are the topics to look out for in IT research – not forgetting hidden electronic microcontrollers and embedded systems such as ABS and ESP in cars, or controls for household appliances. Even a midrange car contains around 50 of these embedded systems. They are the core of intelligent products and if you don’t have a good command of this technology, you’ve already lost. Germany is a leader in this field, but there’s still room to build on this position. Can you name a few success stories that have come out of BMBF-funded projects, where research has triggered product development?

Storm: There are too many to mention, but let me focus on a current project – a pacemaker and defibrillator with a home monitoring function for remote patient care. This project is scheduled to receive the Federal President’s award for technology and innovation in just a few days.