A 2022 story and the road to making it happen: Anna and the project IO

IO is born. The experimental phase has started: in few years the application will allow citizens to manage their interaction with Public Administrations and to access most public services through their smartphones. Here it’s how it may work: io.italia.it

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Summer 2022. Anna is on the subway, returning home after a long day at the office. She still has seven stops left to go when a notification from an app from her phone informs her that the exam results she’s been waiting for are ready. Anna opens the application, enters her SPID digital identity, which she has been using for some years now, and reads the wonderful news in her Health Record: the exam results have confirmed that she is officially pregnant with her second baby! How exciting!

Oh, one more thing. Anna hadn’t noticed another notification in the app: in her messages she discovers that her new Electronic Identity Card has been sent and will be delivered the next day between ten and noon.

Unfortunately, not all her news is pleasant. Her app also tells her that her TARI is expiring today! Anna opens the section dedicated to payments and, with a sigh, pays the TARI with one click. However, she has to admit that since registering her credit card on the app, it has become much easier to pay.

Anna now has three subway stops left. As she is putting her phone away, another alert from the City arrives: she has five days to confirm her son, Luca’s enrollment in kindergarten. And oh no, it’s time to pay the deposit! Luckily, however, INPS credited her with her Mother’s Bonus just a few days ago and the money is in her digital purse. So that fee is also settled. But Luca will also need to show his certificate of residence, which Anna is able to obtain in a moment using the same app, thanks to the section dedicated to documents.

Finally! Home to celebrate!

Photo by Paul on Unsplash

But what kind of world is this? Is Anna’s story realistic?

This story is, in fact, based on a long process of transformation of the Public Administration: it’s the possible outcome of a journey begun in Autumn of 2016 by the Digital Transformation Team of the Italian Presidency of the Council of Ministers. Today the Team consists of thirty men and women, mostly experts in information technology, design, data science, and modern digital development processes.

The Team was created because many of the digital projects the Administration was working on lacked a central and effective direction and needed a team with strong modern technological skills and the capacity for managing complex cross-disciplinary projects.

Credits: Presidenza del Consiglio dei Ministri

In the following post we will describe both what’s been done and what’s left to do in the creation of Anna’s app.

The result of this project is the result of the work of many people and administrations within the Public Administration. In fact, we do not work alone and it’s important not to take merit that is not ours alone. Some projects existed before we started working on them, even if they were struggling to take off, just as there were many individual initiatives. We have made mistakes and we will continue to make them, but today we are proud to announce the birth of IO, the project for the development of an application that will allow citizens to manage their relationship with the Public Administration directly as well as their access to public services.

IO, the project for developing the app for public services

Thanks to the new app, every user can request and keep documents and certificates, receive bonuses, pay fees and taxes, receive reminders, communications and messages: just like we imagined for Anna’s future. The preview of the prototype and the details of the project are available on io.italia.it.

The application itself is not currently available in app stores, but we will soon start the “closed beta” phase: as of summer 2018, some local and national services will also be provided through the app. The app will be based on the integration of other systems already in use such as pagoPA, ANPR, and SPID. These will converge to facilitate the citizen’s experience and the work of the public administrations, who will be able to use the functions of the IO platform to provide all their services.

But how did we get to this point? Let’s take a few steps back…

Where we started from

We had said from the outset that we would be committed to building and relaunching the projects that make up the fundamental components upon which a solid digital transformation strategy is based: a national registry, a digital identity, a payment system, a modern system for managing public data and software, as well as new tools and working methods for technological development and service design.

We never thought of these as “separate projects” but rather, a unique strategy, a puzzle, in which the individual projects are the components to be put together.

We wanted to break the endless cycle of publishing unnecessary strategies without processes and implementation mechanisms. The President of Council of Ministers, Paolo Gentiloni, in the header of the Three-Year Digital Transformation Plan published in May of 2017, wrote: “The Three-Year Plan requires teamwork to simplify the Public Administration and the life of citizens.” In order for “team work” to become more than just a slogan, it will be necessary to build the technological and process mechanisms that facilitate its achievement.

We work with the “club of virtuous Public Administrations”. I assure you: they exist and they are many. They work within ministries, local administrations, agencies, State-owned technology companies. But we need mechanisms and processes, otherwise everything falls into the void of good intentions. For example, the Plan itself would have remained totally ineffective had we not worked with the Department of Public Administration to update the Digital Administration Code (CAD) in December of 2017.

The CAD writes the rules

The CAD lays down the legal foundation for many of the services established in the plan: in particular, there are three changes that could help the creation of services that Anna will use in 2022. The CAD declares the neutrality of the law with respect to technology. All too often, technology architectures necessary for the creation of a service are described in a law and therefore remain mandatory even when they are incorrect or obsolete. To fix this problem, we have instead introduced the concept of guidelines, designed for flexible adoption and linked to the outcome of an online public consultation, to be updated as necessary. The second change is the addition of a register of citizens’ digital domiciles, containing the addresses that administrations will use for all communications having legal value. And finally, we need to see the start of experimentation with the National Digital Data Platform, to promote knowledge of and use of public information assets.

A platform for data

We call it the Data & Analytics Framework (DAF): a platform for which we’ve already succeeded in building the prototype. Thanks to the DAF, public administrations can collect, standardize, exchange and visualize the data already available to them and use modern analysis tools based on machine learning, to read and interpret data, observe trends and patterns, and discover phenomena that are not easily observed with traditional analysis tools. Not only can the DAF improve public policies and decision-making processes of the PA, but it also increases transparency, for example, by allowing for monitoring and verification of the impact of public investments.

Tools for change

We are also working on enabling platforms, another necessary component for making Anna’s app a reality. ANPR (the centralized National Registry) will allow for the synchronization of all data from citizens currently scattered across 8000 different registers. SPID (digital identity) guarantees access to all the PA’s services with a single identification system. PagoPA, the node for all payments made to the PA, will become the engine behind Anna’s “digital wallet.”

To accelerate these changes, we have also created other tools for collaborating with the technological world and involving public officials. To start with, a forum and a modern tool for managing documents: Developers Italia, the first community of developers of digital public services and Designers Italia, the community of designers that will help to shift the paradigm of,”citizens must adapt themselves to the practices of the public administration” while serving as a meeting point between people and technology.

What we haven’t started doing yet

A lot of things, unfortunately! I will emphasize the most important.

The road towards ensuring that applications and Public Administrations communicate with each other by collecting, exchanging, and making information automatically available wherever needed, is still long. There are still a few months left until the publication of an API (Application Programming Interface) catalog, even though in the meantime we have already collected the first few positive examples to populate it with. The new interoperability guidelines will be in public consultation until June 7: applications must, in fact, display interfaces that can be read by machines and must be able to work together in an integrated and secure way in order to build new, more powerful and innovative solutions.

But the most difficult job of all is yet to come. In the Italian Public Administration there are thousands of “data centers,” which are, in most cases, expensive, inefficient and poorly secured. The majority of advanced countries have already started the migration of data to the cloud and/or a small number (less than ten) of strategic national data centers for several years now. These centers are called National Strategic Poles and have very high security standards and service levels. While many EU countries started this process at the beginning of the decade, we have just begun. Even with strong central leadership and clear, agile processes in place, catching up will take years of work.

At the same time, there’s another, equally complex job that must be initiated. As has already been done in countries far ahead of us in terms of digitization, we need to start changing the way administrations buy digital services and technology. We are working with AgID and Consip to create a digital marketplace that encourages and facilitates start-ups and innovative SMEs to work with the Public Administration. We must gradually eliminate single-supplier agreements and drastically shorten tender processing times to ensure enough flexibility for making many small purchases. We need to create the conditions necessary for the PA to purchase innovative technology and services measured by quality of output and the agility of their development capabilities, not on multi-year requirements determined by internal software metrics (we are one of the very few countries that continues to use function points to evaluate technology projects) whose measurement is often completely disconnected from the cost of development and the achievement of the project’s primary objective.

To innovate we need continuity, determination and modern technological skills

The Digital Transformation that makes the relationship between the State, citizens and businesses efficient is a long-term process that requires continuity. It’s a journey based not only on continuous improvement but also on “disruption”, moments of significant top-down change. And the companies and public agencies at the center of this change must first transform themselves, even digitally. How can you digitally transform the PA if you yourself aren’t digitized, agile, or focused on solving the problems of citizens and businesses? We need competent leadership, not just officials who “comply”. Fortunately, we are seeing some timid but positive signs of progress in this direction but much more needs to be done.

To obtain results, it will be necessary to encourage and support the Public Administration. Analog is inefficient and expensive while a well-managed digital transformation brings benefits, including economic ones, that can profit all citizens, saving them time and money, and allowing them to enjoy better services. The Municipality of Gallarate is a good example to follow: thanks to the savings it has obtained through digitization, it has been able to grant a € 5 discount to citizens who pay TARI using the PagoPA digital payment system.

These are the kinds of actions that will lead us in the right direction and allow Anna, in a few years’ time, to use an app to manage all her interactions with the Public Administration.

(To read more about the projects and to monitor our progress, go to this link)