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Article - Smart Networks Initiative

Smart networking


The “Smart Networks” Initiative was launched in order to make better use of the major social and economic opportunities deriving from digital networking in the five sectors of education, energy, health, transport and administration.

The Smart Networks Initiative is now the Urban.Rural.Digital Initiative
Logo der Initiative Stadt.Land.Digital
The Urban.Rural.Digital Initiative is a centre of excellence, contact point, multiplier and facilitator for all relevant stakeholders and issues on the path towards the smart city and the smart region. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy aims to foster smart networking in Germany. The content on this page continues to serve as a thematic knowledge resource. This link (in German) takes you to the website of hte Urban.Rural.Digital Initiative.

Digitalisation is increasingly becoming an overarching, everyday experience. It is changing the way people live, work and communicate with one another. New possibilities, products and services are emerging. “Smart networking” means enhancing and optimising the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the sectors of education, energy, health, transport, and administration. There are already many examples of applications, such as the Smart Grid, Smart Meter, Smart Traffic, Smart City, eHealth, eLearning, eGovernment, eParticipation and age-appropriate support systems for living a self-determined life.

Digital networking permits smart solutions

In the field of energy, for example, the focus is on smart electricity grids in which smart meters continuously meter household consumption. This means that electricity generation can always be aligned with current demand. In the health sector, technical assistance systems based on smart networking help people in need of care to enjoy greater independence and self-determination. They remind them of the need to take medicine or inform emergency services about accidents in the home.

The systematic networking of the existing infrastructure in the five sectors can, in combination with innovative technologies and a greater user orientation, help these sectors to optimise processes, create productivity gains, and save costs. This can give a substantial boost to growth, also between sectors, and enhance prosperity.

Computer chip symbolic of digitisation

© Raimundas/

Taking control of the digital transformation

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The initiative

Making new use of networks

The Smart Networks Initiative works with a network of strong partners from companies, research establishments and associations from the ICT sector and the five sectors to promote the use of the vast potential.

Until the end of 2018, the initiative promoted systematic networking between the various players, e.g. via the sharing of ideas and projects, on an open innovation platform. In January 2019, it was replaced by the new Urban.Rural.Digital Initiative.

It is a key point of contact for experts, professional user groups and end-users. It organises activities to promote a better understanding of smart networking. The partners are engaged in a regular dialogue with the initiative. For example, they work on implementing projects and support the dissemination of successful projects. They feed in their expertise via the initiative’s activities and serve as multipliers spreading the understanding of smart networking. In a joint dialogue, the network partners and the initiative give a boost to smart networking in Germany.

Participating and feeding in ideas

Everyone can access the online platform (in German) to register as a participant and feed in specific examples of how digital technologies can improve day-to-day lives at work and at home. This means that you can talk with experts, developers and users of smart networking about how we can advance digitalisation to everyone’s benefit.

At events organised by regional partners, the participants learn about projects in their vicinity and how to use the potential of smart networking in their own lives or for their companies.

Surveys, studies, practical guidelines

The Initiative conducts regular surveys and studies to boost the understanding of smart networking. These include the representative survey 'Public Acceptance of Smart Networking Applications (in German)'. The representative survey 'Digitalisation and Smart Networking in Municipalities (in German)' deals with digital progress in German municipalities. The use of digital applications in vocational schools is covered by the short study 'Digitalisation in Vocational Training (in German)'. Practical guidelines on the issue of acceptance and a study on the promotion of smart networking projects are currently being prepared.


In its regular newsletter, the Smart Networks Initiative provides information about current activities, events and trends. You can subscribe to the newsletter (in German) via the subscription service under "Newsletter".

Key Visual for the Open Innovation Platform; Source: Nivens

© Nivens

To the open innovation platform

To the open innovation platform

Strategic approach

Networking a variety of different aspects

The Smart Networks Strategy aims to use ICT to create additional opportunities for growth and efficiency in the five sectors of education, energy, health, transport and administration.

Here, digital networking helps us to optimise processes and to boost productivity. This results in higher economic growth and prosperity for people in Germany. The Smart Networks Strategy consists of 36 specific measures which aim to help us attain these goals, including training for employees and support for entrepreneurs by providing targeted assistance with data protection issues and possible funding. It is also about improving the statutory framework for innovations and projects in the five fields of infrastructure, e.g. for smart energy networks.

Strategic approach

The Smart Networks Strategy reaches across different government ministries and promotes networking on digitalisation. Ongoing activities are supported via a complementary, cross-sectoral strategic approach from the horizontal view taken by ICT policy. The aim is to make the best possible use of digitalisation and networking to boost prosperity. Four fields of action have been identified:

  • The sectors are already seeing the implementation of a wide range of initiatives by a large number of stakeholders. In coordination with the relevant stakeholders, positive forces are strengthened and impediments (e.g. the skills shortage) tackled.
  • Given similar interests and issues across sectors, more intensive cooperation can tap synergies. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy provides support for cooperation platforms and promotes knowledge sharing, particularly by discussing best practice examples. In the "smart networking model regions" funding programme, the Economic Affairs Ministry supports digitalisation in the Länder, regions and municipalities.
  • In order to promote and eliminate existing barriers to the development of new innovations, the right framework is needed. Here, an intersectoral approach is highly promising in fields like data protection and data security, user authentication, data platform architectures, and standardisation. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy provides funding, for example, for the development of standards and for research and development activities.
  • By involving the relevant stakeholders right from the beginning, acceptance and use of digital technology can be improved. Advantages and disadvantages, opportunities and risks, costs and benefits are discussed in a broad-based dialogue. The Economic Affairs Ministry is driving the development with a comprehensive information and communication campaign, the Smart Networks Initiative as the central contact point, and the initiative's open innovation platform.

The five sectors

Opportunities and potential for smart networking

Smart networking stimulates a lot of growth and can help to improve the quality of life in Germany. It is important to drive smart networking on a cross-sectoral basis so that it can develop as well as possible.

Up until now, the expansion of ICT in the five sectors has been driven forward in a sector-specific manner and based on a wide range of initiatives and strategies. Adopting a cross-sectoral approach can help harness additional potential for efficiency and growth.

A study says that the smart networking and control of basic social infrastructure could realise overall economic potential of more than €55 billion per year – that is around two percent of Germany’s gross domestic product. The calculated savings are around €39 billion, and the stimulus to growth is approx. €16.7 billion.


Online teaching services like the open online courses (MOOC) “openHPI” of the Hasso Plattner Institute permit people to learn wherever and whenever they want to. Here, the internet can be used to access multimedia course materials. In this way, learners, teaching materials and educational institutions are networked by the internet.


The energy transition is resulting in more and more energy deriving from distributed, renewable sources. Output can fluctuate enormously. Smart networking in the electricity grid can ensure that generation, distribution, storage and consumption of energy are optimally coordinated.


In rural areas in particular, providing rapid medical assistance to patients suffering strokes is a challenge. Smartly networked applications can massively improve patient care here. For example, staff in ambulances, emergency units and specialists from elsewhere can coordinate their expertise in real time and ensure optimal patient care.


Smart networking applications can make the transport system more efficient and safer. They also permit a more efficient use of existing infrastructure via smart management of traffic flows and improvements in safety in the transport of people and freight.

Public administration

Efficient administration is a basic prerequisite for the smooth functioning of business and society in Germany. Applications range from smooth online handling of reporting requirements for companies through to the digital participation of citizens in political decisions.

Tablet and traffic infrastructure, symbolic of intelligent networking; Source: martin-dm