A changing Public Administration in the time of Coronavirus. “Starting processes rather than occupying spaces”. - The theme of the webinar in which Paola Pisano participated
I wish to greet the distinguished speakers who have spoken before me. I do thank you for the interesting ideas that have been shared.
I thank the organizers of the Meeting and the Public Management magazine for inviting me to this event which takes place as it does every year according to a well-established tradition, although this year is not exactly the same as many of us are connected via the Internet. We find ourselves physically distant yet united by the desire to share and compare our ideas.
I see it as the best way to maintain, and even develop, our social relationships in these times marked by a global pandemic. An undesired and unexpected event that has prompted all of us, and above all the most imaginative and resourceful parts of our communities, to seek all the possible ways to remain in fact together.
Not in hypothetical terms, but through practicable ways.
I am the Minister for Technological Innovation and Digitalization, but I will disappoint those who might expect an uncritical elegy and indiscriminate praise of new technologies. I do not embrace modernism devoid of values that is inspired by a naive infatuation or the fashion of the moment.
I believe that Italy and the European Union, of which we proudly are a founding member, must be lead by something similar to what inspires the Meeting, advocating always for the utmost protection and respect for the identity of individuals with the same spirit of community, with the recognition of collectively sharing a set of values, and promoting them. It is evident that these values are not always common to all members of such a large community: 60 million Italians, 446 million Europeans, 24 official languages in the EU, different strands of political cultures, and so on. But we must increasingly consolidate, and defend, our some common fundamental values, including:
- democracy, which can be reformed but never violated and distorted by bending the rule of law,
- the safeguarding of peace, the replacement of negotiation to war - however long and exhausting,
- the protection of human dignity,
- solidarity with the most vulnerable parts of society.
We should face a new phase, starting from the awareness of our tradition, respect for diversity, and a propensity to want to change the future -just as the Constituent Fathers in Italy and the Founding Fathers of Europe-. Indeed, this is a phase of suffering - there are more than 35,000 casualties in Italy - and yet also an opportunity to improve what we can do better. The European Union Recovery Fund is a high-speed train that we cannot miss; we must get on this train to move to better, more advanced and more productive conditions than the one we are presently in. You don’t get on a train while standing still. We all know that.
However you judge it, international competition exists, it is a fact. And it is also a fact that we Italians must equip ourselves better if we wish that present and future generations may benefit from the social rights we have progressively benefited from since the reconstruction threw the horror of the Second World War behind us.
What does this entail? It entails -to stick with the themes of our meeting- to guarantee everyone’s access to connectivity and keep the Public Administration in step with the times, an administrative heritage truly public and at the service of the public good.
President Mattarella wisely wrote in his greeting to the Meeting: “The recovery is possible provided that planning ability and a drive towards the integral development of the people will go hand in hand with all the legitimate interests at stake”. This is up to us, this we must do in our respective fields of action. Why? Perhaps, because of a third party’s obligation? No.
Only by doing so, we can live better and we will be able to make our children live better, children who are the precious and indispensable assets for the resistance and persistence of any society.
Despite the difficulties, the country has a great opportunity to relaunch. In allocating 209 billion euros to Italy with the Recovery Fund, 28% of the total European fund - I repeat: 28%, not a small change - the European Union is making an enormous effort to help to reduce the economic damage of the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the same time, this is a crucial opportunity to make our production, training, and service structures - still characterized by many obsolete mechanisms, procedures, and infrastructures unsuitable for 2020 - less vulnerable to international competition. All of us from political forces to citizens, from the central state to local authorities, from public administration to private individuals, must really be aware of this. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte rightly called it a “historical” moment. We cannot afford to lose it.
I would start from the evidence of a problem that I have been pointing out for some time and that all of you have been able to experience even more in recent months and this summer: our country does not yet have adequate coverage to connect to the Internet and use cell phones. We are late. “Hello? Can you hear me?”. “No, I’ll call you back”. Unfortunately, this too has become the recurring background music of our summer. We are not the only country, it also happens in countries with a GDP greater than ours, but we must ask ourselves: how much work, how much income do we lose in these conditions unsuitable for 2020? How much does this reason contribute to making our country less attractive to foreign investments than others?
The State cannot be the only actor in charge of solving the problem. We are talking about an area in which, in a market economy, the private sector must play a role. But the point is: how much awareness exists among decision-makers that this problem must be solved immediately? In recent months, hasn’t the lack or inadequate connectivity contributed to an increase in the social gap between the haves and have-nots? And isn’t this widening gap unfair, in fact, vicious?
Connectivity allows access to the internet, decreases physical distances, gives us the opportunity to access new knowledge, work remotely, and let our children study, take advantage of services, and new job opportunities. The infrastructure of our country must be safe and ‘future proof’, which means not obsolete from the start, not doomed to be technically outdated any time soon. And above all, it should be easy to maintain and update every time there is a technological upgrade, and improvement.
The connectivity would encourage foreign companies and professionals to choose Italy not only for the quality of life but also for the quality of its technological infrastructure.
Offering the country better connectivity requires foresight and a strong and sustained political commitment; indeed, this project must be pursued with determination even in the years to come, no matter what political force will be at the helm of the country.
The dialectic between the parliamentary majority and the opposition is needed as it’s the salt of a democracy. But we must find ways to converge on projects that are in everyone’s interest: reinvigorating the Italian telecommunications sector is one of these.
The help that the European Union gives us, in my opinion, should focus on strengthening our technological infrastructures, among the main areas of intervention. We need it. It is useful to us, to all.
It is necessary to introduce a conducive framework to strike a balance between the right for the community to have connectivity and access, and the private sector’s legitimate profits. None should prevail; but no compromise should be allowed to violate data privacy, relent the protection of minors and the most vulnerable, blur the distinction between advertising and information.
There will be advantages if the public and private sectors will have the courage to find a synthesis, quickly, for the future of our country, and not for the benefit of specific subjects, in the short term.
As Professor Elisa Pintus said, from her privileged viewpoint, the public must be attentive to the interests of all the stakeholders, creating effective participation methods, and understanding all the interests at stake.
However, this is not enough. Providing Italy with better connectivity without adequate services is like connecting a house to the electricity grid without supplying it with light bulbs; there is electricity but without light bulbs, it will be of little use.
Many of you have heard of the “single network of telecommunications”. As important as it is, the creation of a single network for our telecommunications is not in itself sufficient as Professor Carrozza points out: it should be integrated with a strategic infrastructure equally essential for the development of services.
This infrastructure must consist of the set of containers in which we store our data - the ‘cloud data centers’ - and which guarantee the continuous functioning of essential services: from digital systems that allow a hospital to function, to our mobile phones in which we store photos, messages, information about us.
The cloud makes available and potentially analyzes the digital data of billions of devices of our companies and citizens. Today, it represents the most important challenge for the digitalization of the country as it not only enables the use of remote services but is the foundation for the development of new technologies that are so much talked about such as artificial intelligence, robotics, 4.0 manufacturing.
Strengthening the European and Italian cloud system is a new project which has not been launched yet. Why?
Because it needs strong political support and needs relevant economic support. The Recovery Fund can provide the much needed financial support.
It is up to us to put the will, the commitment, the foresight into it. And, if we love Italy and we care for our future, this undertaking is not only for the current government and its majority but also for the opposition, with all its critical contributions and insights.
As Dr. Fiorentino pointed out, if you want to understand a phenomenon, you need to analyze the data.
If you are required to provide services you have to manage the data. And the proliferation of data that can be collected today is increasing at an impetuous pace. According to sector estimates, in 2025, as compared to 2018, the increase in the volume of data in Europe will be equal to 530%.
Who will benefit from such a huge amount of information? Only those countries and companies that are capable not only of collecting and storing data safely and securely, but also of producing, analyzing, and finally sharing it securely. We have to be at the forefront of those countries. Foregoing this goal will reduce our autonomy. People’s sovereignty and effective democracy do not depend on an unrealistic return to the past.
As Dr. Pelligra emphasized, it depends not only on our ability to face the future - as it is often said- but also on the ability to face the present.
Without delays. Without excluding these important issues from our vision and the urgency of the public debate.
Focussing more on the details. The era in which each public administration invests money to store its data in separate and not interoperable data-centers should end. For so long, this approach has hindered smart-working and sharing useful data. We must stop reenacting the same technological model and approach that the public administration has followed for the last 40 years.
We should end the times of uncoordinated public investments without common policy goals, of strategies leading to the creation of non-communicating vessels of public data -blind alleys rather than networks-, of occupying spaces rather than starting processes. I don’t wish to spend time accusing this or that. I just say -and I hope that many will say: it must no longer be like this.
There are some public sector data centers that should remain autonomous as they have specific security needs. However, this does not justify the fact that many branches of the public administration will be unable to communicate with each other forever. Nor should it involve sporadic and out-of-context investments which are not commensurate with the actual need of any specific administration.
Today, in Italy, we use clouds outside the European Union for 60% of our needs. we do not turn this situation soon, our country risks technological dependency on an oligopoly of foreign big techs; even more worrisome, the rules of the countries in which the data centers are based will apply. We cannot shy away from the problem. I don’t have an ideological approach but I wish to point it out because we need to deal with this reality: because of technological limitations, we must use cloud data centers located in other countries. However, from now on we must make the best use of the secure infrastructures available to the country, and push in favor of a national cloud in synergy with the European Union and with the Gaia X project: a federation of clouds of private entities in which we are considering participating with our best companies.
Someone may ask: what does the government do? It is indeed working. In the Decree “Simplification and digital innovation”, under the coordination of the Prime Minister’s Office, we have moved towards this direction and promoted the development of a highly reliable national cloud infrastructure.
In the same decree, the different Public Administrations are required to develop their services in the cloud and not in their separate and closed data centers.
I am grateful to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and to the entire Council of Ministers for supporting my proposal. Now we have to engage at multiple levels, administrative and political, to achieve these objectives.
In the last months and with the legislative measures, we have laid the foundations for a substantial update and a regulatory reorganization of the Public Administration as underlined by Professor Bernardo Mattarella in his speech. From 28 February 2021, through the digital identity (SPID), citizens will be able to access all the services of the Public Administration with a unique and secure credential.
By law, the public sector will provide services such as enrolling children in school, paying taxes, receiving welfare, making payment transactions digitally. Just as digital will be the communication between citizens and the public administration.
From February 28, public administrations are mandated to start the migration of their respective services into the IO application which is already available on smartphones.
The public sector must not be left alone in this difficult transformation (especially the small municipalities under 5000 inhabitants -as the lawyer Belisario pointed out- and for them, we are thinking to introduce specific measures). The Three-year Plan for the Digitalization of the Public Administration - recently published by the Agency for Digital Italy (AgID) - is the toolbox to accompany the public sector towards the directions that it must follow and the actions that it must implement.
In the Decree “Simplification and digital innovation”, we have added numerous provisions to move in this direction: from a technological code of conduct to shape digital services with the same levels of performance and the same standard, to the possibility of hiring experts in the Public Administration. Just as Alberto Gambescia has asked for. In the Department for Digital Transformation, under my responsibility, we are establishing a pool of experts in charge of following the public sector digital transformation.
If such transformation seems easier to you than building infrastructure, trust me: it’s just an impression. And it is misleading. Behind this transformation, there is a cultural change, as Gianni Riotta rightly affirmed.
To adapt the Public Administration to the digital transformation, we need to quickly hire staff who already have the necessary skills to manage digital transformation processes. Even staff 40, 50, 60 years old who have these skills. Young graduates are useful, but we would waste precious time in inserting only young graduates who need the training to work on complex projects. If we do not have enough skills gained through experience, skills that are useful to lead the complexity of technological transformation, skills that are useful in guiding and professionally training the new generation, we will not go far.
As Professor Severino effectively observed in her speech full of invaluable ideas, degrees are not enough. We need people who know how to do it. We need to teach know-how in the Public Administration; we must attract the talents of ‘doing digital’.
Do we want to start pushing our limits? Are we going to build the future?
Let’s start from the facts. As Mario Draghi, the authoritative economist and former President of the European Central Bank, has pointed out here at the Meeting: “Il debito creato con la pandemia è senza precedenti e dovrà essere ripagato principalmente da coloro che sono oggi i giovani. E’ nostro dovere far sì che abbiano tutti gli strumenti per farlo”. One of these tools must certainly be an adequate ability to work with new technologies.
There is a book Scuola di Religione (School of Religion) the title of which may seem to lead us away from our theme. As many know, Father Giussani is the author. He wrote:
“Let’s take a student who, for whatever reason, doesn’t like maths and therefore never put any effort into studying the subject. He will never understand what his mathematical abilities truly are. If conversely, he begins to put the effort into studying maths, he may as well realize to have above-average abilities in that subject. The only action unveils talent and human character.” (Scuola di Religione, p. 7).
Indeed, in Italy, we must do more to promote, unleash, exploit the technical and scientific talent of our young people.