G20 Executive Talk Series

Strategic Partner

Klaus Helmrich

Siemens AG–Member of the Board and B20 Taskforce Chair

Global Connectivity: Increasing Welfare and Growth

Digitalization has revolutionized business models, interactions, and our daily lives, the ways we communicate, trade, produce and work. Worldwide, it fosters equal opportunities, global welfare, quality enhancement, and cost reductions. Digitalization is transforming production and production-related services along the whole value chain—from design, simulation and prototyping, as well as production planning to production and services. It is unlocking huge potential for individualized mass production, shorter time to market, higher productivity, and better utilization of resources – all based on smart use of data. Digitalization improves product benefits, boosts consumer welfare, and facilitates participation as well as equality. It is a critical cross-sectoral and cross-cutting means to achieving the Connect 2020 Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda—from growth, trade, and employment to health, education, energy access, infrastructure, agriculture, food security, and overall societal welfare: digital technologies are crucial catalysts of progress.

However, digitalization is inherently of a transfrontier character—full of challenges and opportunities! Therefore, governments and business need to work closely together to tackle these obstacles together with future-oriented actions. The importance of close international coordination and collective action cannot be overstated.

What is to be done now? First, the fundaments of global connectivity and cybersecurity need to be strengthened. Not only do cyber threats create economic damage. Clearly, if there is lack of confidence in the safety and security of digital technologies, the adoption of new technologies—such as autonomous driving, digital healthcare or augmented intelligence—will falter even if they offer substantial benefits. Global cooperation is important to avoid fragmented regulation or processes and preserve the global and open nature of the Internet. Therefore, G20 members have to stand up against creeping digital protectionism, increase interoperability of legal frameworks, and facilitate the transfer of data in accordance with privacy requirements. Related to that, to achieve the goal of providing affordable Internet access to everyone, G20 members have to foster the expansion of ICT infrastructure. They have to set ambitious national goals for the expansion of broadband coverage and implement investment-conducive frameworks.

Enabling people and businesses to make use of digitalization’s opportunities is not just a matter of broadband coverage—digital literacy and skills are just as important. As digitalization will continuously lead to shifting skill demands in the labor market, G20 members and businesses need to invest in capacity building and education. Life-long learning, continuing education, as well as re- and upskilling should be top priorities. Close cooperation between governments and business is critical in this area. Curricula in schools, universities, vocational training, and training programs should be regularly adjusted to market demand.

Second: The broadband to fully use the potential of Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet underlines that expansion of ICT infrastructure is needed in both developing and industrialized countries. To continuously encourage the use and dissemination of technological applications for production, G20 members have to foster and protect innovation. Furthermore, the industry-led development of globally coherent standards as well as reference architectures should be strengthened. Standards-based interoperability is at the basis of market efficiencies.

And Third: With the exponential development of Artificial Intelligence the next level of economic transformation is right at our doorstep. AI-enabled innovations such as self-driving vehicles, smart infrastructure, or advances in machine learning have tremendous potential to improve people’s lives. However, its full implications are not yet fully understood. Spreading knowledge, an informed public dialog and supporting innovation are key issues to be addressed by policy-makers.

The G20 as the central hub for global governance needs to address these barriers to global connectivity, the expansion of Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet, and the development of AI. If it does, the G20 will go a long way in reaching its goal of increasing inclusiveness, welfare, and growth to the benefit of all.


Klaus Helmrich, chairs the B20 Digitalization Taskforce. Since 2011 he is a member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG. His special responsibilities for Siemens include Africa & Europe, the Digital Factory Division, and the Process Industries and Drives Division.