Is Digital Italy moving in slow-motion?

Published on September 30, 2021

Digital Government in Italy has been a big topic of discussion over the past few years, and it’s clear that we’re starting to see the results of the government’s work to improve productivity and boost the economy through technology. However, there’s still work to be done. While the country has been embracing digital government and technology on multiple levels, it has fallen behind considerably. However, this situation may be changing with the appointment of Mario Draghi as Italy’s Prime Minister. 

He unveiled in April 2021 a €221bn recovery package for a greener digital economy and society. The world will be watching closely to see how the government navigates through Italy’s current challenges and implement policies that boost economic growth while making Italy more attractive to foreign businesses and investors. Let’s take a look at how Italy got here and what we can expect next from the Digital Government in Italy.

Different digital strategies

Despite its status as a global power in art, fashion, and design, Italy lags behind in digital technology. The country has tried various options for digitally transforming the public sector. Different governments introduced several types of governance throughout the years, but, unfortunately, the situation has not improved as much as it was expected. 

In September 2016, Diego Piacetini, the Italian Government’s High Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, was appointed by the President of the Council of Ministers to lead and relaunch the “Digital Agenda” implementation. During this time, the Digital Transformation Team supervised by the same commissioner was also launched. 

He had a dedicated budget that allowed the team to recruit the best technical people while also having access to national and European funds to launch and/or relaunch projects. The team’s mission was to make public services for citizens and businesses easily accessible, via a mobile-first approach, with reliable, scalable and fault-tolerant architectures.

Later on, important strategies were introduced such as the 2014-2020 Strategy for Digital Growth, and the Ultra-Wideband Plan and the National Broadband Strategy.  These plans were under the coordination of the Prime Minister and aimed at promoting digital literacy among citizens and businesses. The Italia Login project, which stems from the above-mentioned projects, seeks to build the so-called Citizens House. It is designed as an open structure where actors from the public administration contribute to their area of expertise. The user-centric approach allows citizens access to all the information and services concerning themselves on Italia Login. 

In 2019, there was a heightened focus at the political level on boosting the digitisation of the Italian economy and society. The latest project is the 2025 National Innovation Plan, which includes 20 main digitalisation actions to be put in place by 2025, trying at the same time to promote more democracy, ethics and inclusion.

  1. The first objective concerns creating a digital society where people and companies can benefit from digital public services
  2. The second objective seeks to foster high-tech sectors such as robotics, smart mobility, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. 
  3. The third objective addresses all human-related challenges and promotes inclusive, transparent and sustainable innovation that benefits the whole digital society.

Also, the government started work on two national strategies, one on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the other on Blockchain, with the support of groups of experts from industry, academia and other social partners. However, despite these strategies, there are still disparities in the growth and geographical distribution of digital transformation. Moreover, there are concerns that the pandemic may contribute even more to this digital gap, which needs to be addressed immediately.  

How does Italy rank compared to other countries?

According to the 2020 DESI Index, Italy ranks 25th out of 28 EU Members, despite data (before the pandemic) but showing that the country had a good ranking in terms of 5G preparedness. Meanwhile, according to the EGDI index, Italy ranks 37th of 193 countries and has fallen behind by 13 places compared to 2018. 

Although the country ranks relatively high in its offer of e-government services, public take-up remains low. There are significant human capital gaps because Italy records very low basic and advanced digital skills levels compared to the EU average. The number of ICT specialists and ICT graduates is also well below the EU average. These gaps in digital skills are reflected in the low use of online services, including those of digital public services. 

If Italy wants to deliver citizen-driven services, it needs to transform its technological systems to overcome its analogue structures. Because, like many other countries, it is faced with an outdated legacy that doesn’t allow for interoperability and that has, until today, limited itself to translating processes created for an analogue bureaucracy. 



About the Author

Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.

He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.

After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.

He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.

As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.

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FRIDAY, 30 JUNE 2022