6 Settembre 2020
Outline of the intervention Minister of Technological Innovation and Digitalization
Paola Pisano at Forum Ambrosetti

‘Intelligence on the World, Europe, and Italy’: this the theme of the 46th edition of the Forum Ambrosetti

Draft Outline of the intervention Minister of Technological Innovation and Digitalization

I do thank the European House - Ambrosetti for the invitation and for introducing such a brilliant technological innovation; there is much to innovate even in conferences format. I wish to greet all the distinguished speakers and I do thank them for the excellent analysis of the Italian situation; they were helpful for my speech and for the country. The novelty of this mix of in presence attendees, remote participants, and the innovative use of holograms is a superb example of the potential of technologies. Those holograms seem to be ethereal and light. Yet, from a technological point of view, the holographic display, which makes people present here, is heavy, very heavy. The use of this technology requires higher bandwidth. This crucial technical issue e.g. high-speed connectivity, helps me to answer the first question that the meeting organizers have asked me: “what are the country’s priorities in terms of technological innovation?”. Without widespread, robust, and high-speed connectivity, available throughout the entire national territory, it will not be easy to develop the Italian economy for the third decade of the third millennium. We are behind; yet, we must recover the lost time and catch up. Our country’s broadband and its robustness and security, should now be considered a matter of national interest. In my opinion, the private initiative and investments to deploy broadband networks, in a pro-competitive environment, should be accompanied by public interventions targeted at specific market failures. Indeed, in our country, there are many unserved mountain and coastal areas where the connectivity is scarce or there is no connectivity at all. This gap has quite an impact.
During the months of lockdown, schoolchildren, and students living in those areas had more difficulty in following online/distance courses than their peers living in urban areas had. Foreign professionals and entrepreneurs, who could choose those locations as a temporary or permanent residence, may decide to move to other countries instead of Italy. But, above all, if the network is used to talk and work with the world, we cannot have parts of Italy that cannot connect with the rest of the world. Among our national and most admired resources, there is the craftsmanship of a long tradition and great quality that we have a moral duty to support and export. Bringing this excellence to the international market would be both right and advantageous for the individual craftsmen and the made-in-Italy brand. But if there is no network, if there is no connectivity, then there will be more obstacles, not less. The large international platforms are constantly looking for market segments that are not yet online. What about our country? Why should we preclude the possibility of selling online these products, and one day, perhaps, on our platforms which will be able to stand up to the international competition? At long last, today, we are much-discussing the single broadband network. There are different angles from which considering the single network. At this moment, the prevailing discussion is about corporate governance and who will keep control of the future merged entity; this is also a matter of political debate. Yet, let me frame the issue in a different way by looking at the technical side and at the final goal; those are aspects not to be dismissed summarily. Both the network and the other technological tools have more economic value and greater advantage if they are, so to speak, future-proof, or at least near future-proof. Our next investments must equip us with infrastructures and tools that do not incur the risk of being replaced by more efficient and less expensive ones, in no time. Instead, they should be upgraded easily without being completely replaced. In Italy, we all know that sooner or later, we should deal with 5G. I venture to say that it wouldn’t hurt to do it sooner rather than later. By this, I mean that it is good to leave the decisions on how and with which 5G suppliers to the appropriate offices and according to the right procedures. But if we take this issue out of sight, we won’t be far-sighted because sooner or later it will also come to us. In different parts of the world, it has already arrived. We must equip our country to win future races in the technological evolution rather than delaying in the hope of winning races already won by others. Look forward, not backward. The letter of intent between Tim and Cassa Depositi e Prestiti-Equity is only the first step; it must be followed quickly by others, along an ambitious, not easy, and yet essential path. The year 2020 has been marked by the Covid-19 epidemic. It is a crisis that calls our generation to responsibility even more than before. We should prepare ourselves for what may happen, for the risks and possible events, including those of different nature, that we should be ready to face.

In the future, if not already now, we see a world in which the geopolitical balance appears to be redefined. Today much of our data is stored elsewhere, abroad. That’s the way it is now and we can’t change everything in a month or six months. But it is in our interest ensuring that our data and what allows the public and private sector to function, are stored in Italy or in the European Union. With a warning. The data should not be stored in old cabinets covered with cobwebs and without the services that the cloud requires and without adequate security. Call it digital autonomy; call it digital sovereignty; call it what it may please you. Yet, without any protectionist intent and anachronism, we need to create and strengthen an Italian and European cloud system. The European cloud system is relying on the Gaia X project; a few companies are joining together to define a set of common rules for an EU cloud system. Germany and France have started this process; Italian companies are participating. and the government is following the process closely. In Italy, the core of the cloud system is rooted in a new provision of the Decree “Simplification and digital innovation” that the Senate approved the day before yesterday (Sept. 4), and the Chamber is now examining. I was personally involved in the proposal; the text stipulates that, in compliance with the autonomy of each administration, the databases of the Italian public sector could exchange data of common interest more easily. At present, it may happen that the left hand of the public administration is not aware of what the right hand does or knows. Obsolete procedures and siloed databases make the exchange of knowledge difficult and slow, which instead, by law, would be legitimate and possible. What does this issue entail? It entails, for one thing, that one branch of the administration may ask you, entrepreneurs or professionals, for information that you have already supplied to another. While acting in compliance with privacy and security, we should overcome this situation, and save companies and citizens precious time that is misused in bureaucratic procedures and could be used for other purposes. It may be time spent in work, preferably, but also in entertainment, rather than wasted in delays and lines. In the “Simplification and digital innovation” Decree, we stipulated for all public offices, with a very few exceptions, that by 28 February 2021, they should start the processes so as to make their services available digitally.

The services must be accessible through the so-called “enabling platforms”. Among these: SPID, the digital identity that is the unique and secure credential to access all public services. To date 10 million citizens have a digital identity. A year ago, when I had the honor of joining the new government led by Giuseppe Conte, there were only 4 million. It was one of the areas on which I worked the most. The App “IO”: the single channel of the Public Administration. We have fully developed it during the peak of the Covid-19 epidemic, and from April all citizens can download it from the app stores on their mobile phones. From April, three million citizens have downloaded it. One and a half million citizens used it in order to receive the holiday bonus introduced by the Minister of Cultural Heritage, Dario Franceschini. “PagoPa” the system for the public sector digital payments. Since the beginning of 2020, 69 million payments have been made through PagoPA, for a value of 15 billion euros. In July, we had exceeded the number of digital transactions for the entire 2019. In the “Simplification and Digital Innovation” Decree, we introduced a technological code of conduct that the various branches of the Public Administration will have to follow, if they want to have access to funds to develop digital services. Consequently, public administration service providers will have to follow it as well. As for the other priorities for the country, cybersecurity is undoubtedly one of the priorities to be addressed. I cannot not dwell on it for reasons of time, not because it does not matter. This is one of the most important crucial issues now, and it will remain as such for a very long time. As Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte - who obtained that Italy would receive 28% or 209 billion euros of the EU Recovery Fund - rightly underlined yesterday, we must use the funds for a coherent and coordinated plan which is absolutely crucial to renew the country. The new digital infrastructures, cybersecurity, enabling platforms, digital services, data and interoperability between the databases of the Public Administration are all part of this commitment. In my opinion, this commitment must include, among others, the transition from a phase in which our children become acquainted with the new technologies as self-taught - as it happens now in most cases- to one in which they learn new technologies as a subject matter systematically, so as to raise the level of their skills and awareness. Not only. It should be an opportunity to grow the potential pool of our future technicians and our innovative creatives. The country needs it; businesses need it now and will need it in the future. Accordingly, I discussed with the Minister of Education, Lucia Azzolina the possibility of adding a specific course in the national curriculum so as to make our students aware of the opportunities and risks of the Internet, to learn computational thinking - that is how to define a problem that can also be faced by a machine - artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data analytics and more. We are not digital natives just because we are born with a cell phone in hand. With the Minister of Research Gaetano Manfredi, we share the idea that in each university course a small part of the time should be dedicated to learning digital technologies and methodologies that can be useful for each field of study. We must become acquainted with all new technologies. In the future, artificial intelligence will be more and more part of our life; thus, we need to understand it from now. Of course, we are not implying that we all should become software engineers. To drive a car, we don’t need to be a F1 driver. Yet, if we all know how to change a car wheel, it is fair that in the future, everyone will be able to grasp how artificial intelligence works. This is why we have developed the digital skills strategy, a program to train citizens (“Digital Republic”); in the coming weeks, we will introduce a platform that helps all citizens in the development of artificial intelligence skills. Why? Just because today, one needs to know how to change a car wheel. Clearly, this won’t be an easy task or a pleasant walk in the park.
As the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella said: “The crisis caused by the pandemic was a watershed for the European Union which in less than six months made courageous and innovative choices”. We all -all the branches of the administration, local authorities, employees, and employers, work’ organizations, majority and opposition- need to converge towards these goals. The alternative can only lead to decline. This is why we need all the ideas and a constructive effort from all of us. We owe it to our country. We owe it to our role in Europe. We owe it to the future generations.

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