Tag Archive for: Data

Of digital natives and data-based services – BFH researchers at Connecta 2019

Swiss Post’s Connecta digital conference was a success on Tuesday with over 300 participants and more than 90 speakers from 12 countries. Everyyear,Connecta bringstogether experts in the field of digitalisation to exchange experiences and transfer know-how. The Bern University of Applied Scienceswas also prominently represented with four experts from the Departments of Business and Technology and Computer Science. This year’s Connecta made one thing clear: despite digitalisation, personal exchange is obviously still very much in demand. More than 90 speakers presented trends, developments and experiences from the broad field of digitalisation in well-attended plenary sessions and workshops. It was no longer just about online trade – which Swiss Post had focused on when it launched Connecta three years ago. Fake science, cybersecurity and human-machine interactions were just some of the topics addressed at the conference in Bern.

It doesn’t always have to be “big data

Kim Tokarski, Head of Continuing Education at BFH Wirtschaft, addressed the audience at the beginning of his session on “Data-based service economy” with a question: “How do you decide? According to what guidelines and patterns?” It quickly became clear that many decisions are made intuitively – not least due to a lack of time. However, one basis for decision-making is always data analysis. “Here, the opinion often prevails that this analysis is expensive and time-consuming,” said Tokarski. “But that is no longer so absolutely true today.” He used various examples to show how added value can be created with simple, target group-specific applications. For example, one of Tokarski’s employees built a dashboard for a degree programme by means of which students can put together their desired study plan and immediately see whether there are time overlaps between individual courses. “It took an hour to build that,” he explained. “But the Department of Economics waited three years for it.” His conclusion: small is beautiful. “Sometimes very simple things are enough to improve something. That’s how you create customer satisfaction.” And he also encouraged his audience to put aside any shyness they might have about data solutions. “We have had people who have never had anything to do with IT. After two days, they could build a simple dashboard.”

Privacy worth protecting

When it comes to data, the question of security is not far away. This was the question addressed by Eric Dubuis, head of the Computer Science Department and the Research Institute for Security in the Information Society (RISIS) at BFH Technik und Informatik. “Privacy is part of IT security,” he stressed. “And we must not capitulate in this regard.” His message: “Reconciling data security and privacy is sometimes difficult, but doable,” he said. He used public transport to show how this could work. Today, everyone can still decide for themselves whether to buy their ticket anonymously at a ticket machine or use applications such as fairtiq or lezzgo, thereby automatically revealing personalised information about their respective whereabouts to the respective providers. In the future – Dubuis predicts – using public transport may only be possible with a smartphone. “We therefore looked for solutions that would not allow providers to personalise the tracking of users.” The BFH researchers found what they were looking for with a combination of two IT building blocks, namely group signature and homomorphic encryption. This makes it possible to determine which services a commuter has received, but not at what time he was where. Tracking would thus be depersonalised. His conclusion: “In order to be able to exploit the positive sides of digitalisation, new solutions are often needed

Connected cities

New approaches are also needed when it comes to the city of the future. Stephan Haller from the Institute Public Sector Transformation at BFH Wirtschaft showed where the digital transformation is leading us in his workshop “On the way to the digital city”. Among other things, Haller has worked on a European-Japanese research project on “smart cities”. “When we talk about ‘smart cities’, there are two visions,” he said at the beginning of his presentation. “In one, everything is green and peaceful, everyone is happy. On the other side, there is total surveillance of the citizen, a punitive system for misbehaviour – no one really wants to go there.” Rather, he says, it is about increasing the quality of life. “That’s why it’s not just a technology issue,” says Haller. “The technology is just there to support it.” The digital transformation affects the whole of society, but it is in the cities with their increasing population that many challenges manifest themselves first, such as environmental pollution and resource consumption. That is why research is also focusing on cities. In Switzerland today, many cities are on the way to becoming a “smart city”, but they often remain stuck in individual pilot projects. “We have to get to the point where we learn from each other,” he said. “And also in terms of technical solutions. This will make municipalities less dependent on technology giants.” This networking idea is represented by various international and national platforms – in Switzerland, for example, the “smart city hub”. To Haller’s regret, only German-speaking Swiss cities are represented in the latter. On the other hand, efforts are underway to improve monitoring, i.e. to map what has already been achieved with regard to the smart city. “Tools for this are being developed,” says Haller.

How digital natives work

One population group is likely to be particularly involved in building the “city of the future”: The “digital natives”. They were the focus of Katinka Weissenfeld’s presentation. The BFH lecturer in project management asked whether those born after 1980 have heralded the end of project management. To illustrate this, she placed two employees of a company next to each other in a fictitious example, a young woman and an older man. This example quickly showed the problems that can arise when the two generations meet. “Digital natives expect work to be fun and meaningful. They work fast, independent of location and communicate directly,” says Weissenfeld. Multi-tasking is important, as is constant availability – there are no fixed working hours. Many projects, on the other hand, are characterised by rigid structures, clear hierarchies, predefined processes and budget plans as well as method fetishism. “This is not where the digital natives find themselves,” Weissenfeld emphasised. Rather, digital natives orient themselves to the guiding principles of the “agile manifesto” (which originates from computer science). They are:

  1. The individual is above processes.
  2. The system is central.
  3. The customer’s well-being is above the conclusion of a contract, which means that work can begin even if a contract has not yet been concluded.
  4. And finally: change is desired.

So is classic project management a relic of bygone times? Weissenfeld answered this question diplomatically: “No, digital natives do not stand for the end of project management but for the dawn of agile project management.”

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Hackathons as a hot spot for digital skills

When mixed teams tinker for hours or days until they programme new applications from data, then it is most likely a hackathon. This non-hierarchical form of organisation thrives in the digital age, writes our author. I am interested in hackathons: data- and code-sharing events where programmers, designers, project managers and other specialists and interested parties come together for a limited period of 24 to 48 hours and work together on so-called challenges, optimise software or develop prototypes using data and code. Now, I am not a computer scientist, a data scientist or a mathematician – not even a business information scientist. I am not interested in the technical sophistication of solutions, nor in user-friendliness or data access. No, as a work and organisation scientist, I’m asking myself to what extent hackathons represent a new form of organisation and what is actually produced during these events – apart from lines of codes and prototypes. Why this question?

Hackathons as organisational and learning laboratories

In organisational science, hackathons are considered an open form of organisation in which non-hierarchical structures mean that all participants can get involved in innovation processes, regardless of position and status. They are therefore also considered to be particularly inclusive and collaborative – two aspects that are discussed again and again in the context of the digitalisation of the world of work. Universities use hackathons to apply theoretical knowledge in practice and to give students a sense of achievement in implementing solutions and to promote resilience. In addition, hackathons have shown that team learning takes place alongside individual learning: people learn with and from each other. “Learning something” is therefore also a main motivation for most participants to volunteer at a hackathon (Briscoe & Mulligan, 2014).

What are digital skills?

But what can you actually learn at a hackathon? A new programming language, an application or the so-called digital skills? Think tanks and consultancies have repeatedly pointed out in recent years that the digital transformation makes it necessary for us to have more people with technological skills. In a report by McKinsey & Company (2018) on the future of work in Switzerland, they say that the need for technological, social and emotional skills will increase sharply, whereas physical or manual skills will decline. Technological skills include IT and programming skills, technology design and engineering, data analysis and mathematical skills, and basic digital skills (p. 48). Social and emotional skills include: Self-direction skills, communication and negotiation skills, passing on knowledge to others, showing initiative, adaptability and empathy (p.48). This division into technological, social and emotional skills sounds plausible at first. On closer inspection, however, it reproduces the silo thinking of a working world of the last centuries, in which technology was primarily relevant for technicians and social skills primarily for social scientists. In today’s digitalised – i.e. strongly networked and interdisciplinary – working world, it makes sense to rethink this conventional demarcation of skills.

Digital skills at the hackathon

Let’s return to the Bärn-häckt hackathon. What could be observed here during 48 hours are obviously technological skills: People develop and programme, analyse data and write codes. At the same time, it is noticeable that these technical skills are used to varying degrees: There are some participants who already despair when they encounter small problems, while others are motivated to look for a new solution when they encounter larger difficulties. There is a team with a technical expert who passes on his knowledge, whereby the whole team finds a better solution. Or there are teams in which the technical expertise is limited, but which, through a particularly good communication concept and a humorous pitch on the last day, goes down especially well with the audience. Emotional self-regulation (considering exhaustion, irritability, euphoria) is just as present as intentional behaviour and both are directly related to technical expertise. These observations suggest that the concept of digital skills is not only about cognitive/technical skills but is closely linked to social and emotional skills.

One step further in digital transformation

In other words, the way hackers work suggests that the challenges of the digital world of work cannot be met if technical skills occur without social skills, or emotional stability without technical expertise. Digital skills can therefore best be understood as a ‘bundle’ of social, emotional and technical practices. Such a change of perspective can also contribute to overcoming old – but still widespread – stereotypes such as socially incompetent engineers or technophobic social scientists and instead make digital skills a prerequisite for all professional groups, which need to be built up or developed further. Hackathons offer a good opportunity for this. They are not just a tech event, but a prototype of the new working world and thus a learning laboratory for the digital transformation of our working world.

48 hours of hacking

From 23-25 August 2019, the Bärn-häckt Hackathon took place for the third time at the BFH Wirtschaft premises. BFH was actively involved in the event as one of ten challenge sponsors. Under the heading of “sustainability”, it called on participants to develop a sufficiency platform. Other challenges addressed questions of navigation, individualised travel guidance or the future of banking. Not only the results, but also the working methods of the individual teams were impressive. They provided an opportunity to reflect on the current topic of digital skills. One of the winning teams developed a sufficiency platform for BFH. Congratulations once again to all participants who endured the 48 hours and thus proved their digital skills. All information and impressions of “Bärn häckt 2019” can be found here.


  1. Briscoe, G. & Mulligan, C. (2014). Digital innovation: the hackathon phenomenon.
  2. McKinsey & Company (2018). The future of work: Switzerland’s digital opportunity.
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