Public Sector Digitalisation
Italian Bureaucracy – How Digital Innovation Will Save Italians from Inefficiency
Anyone who has ever lived and worked in Italy has, at some point, complained about bureaucracy. I know I have. Navigating the Italian public sector can be so frustrating, it has become a joke: Once, as I waited to officialise my residency status at the local administration in Rome, someone ahead of the line attempted to break the ice in the narrow corridor (where we were standing for almost three hours) by asking: “did you know that the red stripe in the Italian flag stands for red tape?” At that exhausting moment, I half laughed and half believed him.
But when there’s a will, there’s a way. And the way to break inefficient patterns of Italian public services is by going digital.
The integration of digital technologies with public services is the core driver for digital progress in Italy. As a result, the 2018 eGovernment Benchmark praised the Italian government for making its services increasingly mobile friendly – an excellent trend, given that smart phones are the main device for online access across the country.
However, the 2018 Benchmark also exposed a dichotomy in the country: the availability of digital public services scored high (58%, just below the European average of 63%, as of 2016-2017), but the effective use of such online services by citizens scored very low (only 22% of individuals actually interact online with the Public Administration, as opposed to the European average of 63%).
According to DESI 2018, Italy has the least active Internet user population in Europe (apart from Romania). Additionally, over 23% of Italians have never used the Internet, in contrast with the European average of less than 13%. This has a negative domino effect in all indicators of DESI – leaving Italy to rank unflatteringly amongst the least advanced digital economies in Europe.
So, what do you do with eGovernment mobile services when a substantial part of the population isn’t online to use them? Here’s a tricky answer: digitalise further.
In March 2017, the Italian Government announced ‘Developers Italia’ – an initiative aiming to improve the quality of public administration software and to take the next step towards digitisation and innovation in the country. If Italian bureaucracy can improve (and we all know it must) by going digital, citizens will be encouraged to take advantage of the new systems and adjust to going digital too.
The team responsible for conducting the efforts – known as the Digital Transformation Team– is composed of Italians from both the technology sector and from agencies in the Public Administration. Diego Piacentini was the first Digital Commissioner to lead the team. He is a former VP at Amazon who was appointed by Parliament in 2016 to lead the country’s innovation efforts – which he did, until December 2018, with a simple but powerful vision: “governments are here to make our lives easier.”
Many problems with the Italian bureaucracy are a result of inefficient, antiquated systems that don’t communicate with each other and are digitising (switching from analogue to digital platforms) without digitalising (rethinking operations to enable deeper integration and efficiency through new technologies).
So the Digital Transformation Team came up with several projects to facilitate the life of citizens through the use of a single platform that is simple, modern, and accessible. It aims to create an application programming interface (API) ecosystem where Public Administrations’ information systems are able to connect with each other and speak the same language.
This means citizens won’t have to waste time repeatedly supplying the PA with information; nor will public officials have to extract information from a system, validate it with a stamp, and re-insert it into another; nor will I have to stand in line for three hours every time I visit my local administration office.
But a greater digitalisation of Italian public services will only work when the entire population gets on board. This requires efforts to motivate people and services to go online, which must be paired with initiatives to enable the development of digital skills at various segments of society. This isn’t only a condition for efficient digital transformation, but a requirement for fairness and inclusiveness –after all, everyone should be able to choose when to participate in a democracy. And democracies are increasingly moving to cyberspace.
Digital transformations are more than enablers of efficient Public Administrations and more than a matter of convenience for citizens. They are about having an active voice in the global discussions dictating the rules of the web – and it was about time the Italian government and its citizens joined the rest of Europe in the conversation.