Lars Zimmermann is Managing Director of PUBLIC, a company that connects Europe’s public sector with startups and runs a growth program for tech companies in Denmark, France, Germany, and the UK. Zimmermann was previously CEO of hy, a subsidiary of Germany’s Axel Springer that provides digital transformation consulting services to corporate customers. He is a mentor at HenkelX, an open innovation platform that is designed to to help industrial players become more innovative and adopt disruptive business models. Zimmerman recently spoke to The Innovator about how technology developed by startups could transform the way governments operate.
Q : What is PUBLIC and what does it hope to achieve ?
LZ : We are building a portfolio of tech companies that offer digital solutions for government and public administrations. To remain competitive with China and the U.S. Europe has to speed up and become more tech savvy. New digital technologies are not just changing business, they also have an impact on what governments do. We want to help regional and federal governments as well as cities to understand technology and find the right technological solutions. We invest in the startups we work with and are helping them to grow, scale and collaborate with governments and the wider public sector across Europe.
Q: How does PUBLIC’s approach differ from hy, the Axel Springer digital transformation consultancy that you headed?
LZ: More and more corporates were approaching Axel Springer and wanted to know why they are so successful in their digital transformation. hy was a response to that demand, it is a consulting arm that helps coporates to build their own innovation ecosystems. PUBLIC doesn’t want to compete in the consulting phase. We see government a a technology and venture case. We closely work with startups on real world technology solutions. We help them flourish and then help government to implement the technologies.
Q: What role do you see AI playing in government?
LZ: For most governments it is very, very early right now. Most don’t have any AI and don’t know how to deal with data. The big challenge here is to figure out a way to let other companies do the work for them — and how government can own these capabilities. Today the startups building some of the most transformative technology have a hard time connecting with the public sector. The govtech market, however, is huge.
Q: What about blockchain? Are European governments starting to embrace the technology?
LZ: There are some very good examples of how governments can use blockchain in Finland, Switzerland, Austria or Estonia but if you look at Europe as as a whole we are just at the beginning.
Q: What advice would you give to governments?
LZ: Don’t think about just digitizing your existing processes but rather look at govtech as the future operating model of government itself. Technology will change the nature of government. There is a huge opportunity to make governments services better but you have to have the right mindset and the right network. Governments should open up to the startup ecosystem and do more to reach out and establish a close working relationship with the startup scene. Governments also need to understand their own limits. It is very, very important that they understand what they can do and what they can’t do by themselves. The fact is that governments are not really good at building technology so they need to reorganize, open up and be willing to look at what innovations are out there. Governments are in the same situation as big corporates were 10 years ago or 15 years ago. The main question is leadership. Do they have the right leaders on top of government organizations? I am quite sure that governments will find their way. It will take great effort but it is also a great chance for everyone. If we can organize a way for government to work more closely with startups we can not only transform the public sector but also potentially flow billions of dollars into the European tech scene and that money will do a lot for the ecosystem as a whole.