Ulrich Dietz, born in 1958, graduated as a certified engineer after studying mechanical engineering and product engineering at the University of Reutlingen and Furtwangen. He has headed GFT – a leading global technology partner for digital transformation in the financial sector – since its foundation in 1987. As GFT’s CEO, Dietz is now leading the company into the future. He also initiated the CODE_n innovation platform and is personally involved in numerous activities dedicated to promoting innovation and youth development. His personal ambition is to promote and foster Germany’s position as an innovative country and to support entrepreneurship in IT. The interview was conducted by Soma Analytics‘ CEO and Co-Founder Johann Huber (@mangohammock). Soma Analytics is also the company behind the Getuberyou email subscription service and webshop.
Johann: Ulrich, you’ve been inventing IT solutions for major corporations for over 25 years. So would it be fitting to call you an inventor by trade, but an engineer at heart?
Ulrich: I mainly see myself as an innovator – open-minded and always curious about new things.
Johann: How do you see GFT changing in the next five years, and how do you see yourself engendering that change?
Ulrich: The world is increasingly becoming digitally connected. Businesses are starting to feel the far-reaching effects of this transition. The job for companies is to continually re-evaluate and develop their business models. This trend also affects the financial industry – GFT’s main clients. The importance of FinTechs has also been growing for years. GFT still offers tremendous digital banking expertise, with solutions related to big data and a highly successful startup network – CODE_n. This is all becoming increasingly important for our customers as well as for the future of our own company. As you can see, there’s still a lot of ongoing work to do. And if we don’t move forward, effectively we’d be taking a step backwards.
I am convinced that when you bring people together it results in new ideas – people who are willing to think outside established boxes and take action accordingly. This includes young, ambitious innovators as well as successful, experienced entrepreneurs. CODE_n provides us with an innovation ecosystem, allowing us to identify these people, bring them together and guide them into the digital future. It takes a lot of educating but also concrete action. This is also why we provide the global networking platform and various elements of CODE_n.
Johann: Big data appears to have become the big trend in the tech world in recent years. What opportunities do you see for startups in this industry?
Ulrich: A myriad of business opportunities are opening up with data, along the complete value chain. These include the recording and processing of huge data volumes, plus analysing the data, as is done in market research or simulations and product development. Industries such as the automobile industry or the energy sector are uncovering completely new ways to use IT. In financial services, providers can now analyse up-to-the-minute data in real time, raising the bar with their consulting services. Even the medical industry is discovering new application scenarios with things like diagnostics and different treatments. So overall, the scope is huge and there are some enormous chances for smart start-ups.
Johann: Digitalisation provides us with just one way to solve contemporary challenges, in areas such as climate change and economic development. Do you see any problems in this respect, and not just solutions?
Ulrich: In general, it should be good news because all sorts of information that’s considered quite expensive today – medical, legal, financial, to name just a few key areas – will all become much cheaper. But for those affected, this is also extremely disruptive.
Regarding the energy sector, there will be additional challenges in a number of new areas such as energy management, virtual power plants, electric vehicles, connected homes and the smart grid. Companies need fewer of the skills that are related specifically to the energy industry; the critical success factor will be different skills – especially in the IT sector. In future, more than ever before, they will need a mixture of in-house know-how and external expertise to support or outsource individual parts of the value chain to reliable partners. The traditional companies will no longer be able to go it alone. The key driver behind innovation will be collaboration with start-ups. This is one of the main reasons why we’re putting more into our CODE_n innovation ecosystem. We need to link up different worlds, start-ups on the one hand and established companies on the other.
But ultimately, it won’t be technology that will shape our destiny; we shape our destiny ourselves. It’s entirely up to us to create the future.
Johann: In 2011, you were named Entrepreneur of the Year in Germany. In your opinion, what is the key to entrepreneurial success?
Ulrich: To be successful, you need courage, hard work and an enthusiasm for new technologies. In a fast-changing sector such as information technology, you’ll only prosper if you continually come out with innovations. Continual learning and development are not just necessary for companies, but for society as a whole.
Modern information technology offers a host of opportunities to young business owners with new ideas. But to transform good ideas into marketable solutions, they need to persevere and – today more than ever – they need a strong network and the right support. This is why it’s such a delight to me to be able to accompany such young entrepreneurs on part of their journey. And last but not least, you need plenty of ambition.
Johann: Many feel that Germany is still lagging behind the USA and Asia in terms of software development. Where is German technical advancement heading right now?
Ulrich: To my mind, the areas most affected by rapid digitalisation are areas like media, retailing, finance and manufacturing. It’s now also encroaching on healthcare and education. But what we mustn’t forget is that digital change needs information technology and unfortunately, German industry could become better in this area.
Just one example: Germany would have so many opportunities to establish itself as a location with the highest security and privacy standards for companies everywhere. We could set up companies and gain worldwide recognition in the security business. But to become the number 1 in the world in data security, we need specific goals. But there are no signs of that happening at the moment.
Johann: In your book ‘The new New’ (published in 2010) you discuss the urge to venture into the undiscovered. What ‘new things’ does the future hold for you?
Ulrich: Basically, I always look forward to technological innovation, whatever the future holds for us. Just one example: I’d really like to go for a spin in a self-steering Tesla. If I’ve already heard of something, it can’t possibly be new – but there’s one thing I am sure of: I’ll never be bored. (Laughs)