Project IO, the public service app, in 5 steps

We started with an idea expressing our vision of the relationship between the citizen and the Public Administration. Here are the steps leading to the release of IO, the public service application, in stores

Matteo De Santi
Feb 14, 2019 · 7 min read

Questo articolo è disponibile anche in italiano

roject IO is one of the Digital Transformation Team’s most exciting projects because it exploits the potential of several enabling platforms (SPID, pagoPA, ANPR), the new API interoperability model, and the tools and guidelines of the and communities to offer citizens an easy to use app they can use on their smartphone where they can gradually merge all public services.

This is why we gave ourselves a clear, yet ambitious goal: in the second half of 2019, we will publish the first release (version) of the IO application in app stores for Android and iOS.

This goal is the last step of a journey that has, from the beginning, been based on user needs. We started with an analysis of citizens’ daily needs, which then allowed us to develop and test an application capable of responding to those needs in a quick, simple, and personalized manner. We are going to tell you about this journey in five steps: from where we started, to where we are, to where we are going.

Step 1: Anna’s story and the real needs of the citizen

Anna 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, INPS (Italian Social Security Agency) has credited her with her Motherhood’s Bonus just a few days ago and the money is in her digital wallet. 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.”

It’s possible that Anna has become an almost familial character for those who have been working on the IO Project since its beginning. Her story was an example given by Diego Piacentini when we were still just designing the app. It was a way of allowing everyone -including ourselves- to imagine how a public service application could assist citizens with the small things of everyday life. Anna’s story showed how, in the near future, a person might easily interact with the entire public sphere through a smartphone by using it to: receive a medical report, obtain a certificate, pay school fees online, etc.

That story wasn’t born of imagination alone: it was based on a research project during which we mapped out some of the key moments in which citizens interact with the Public Administration, ordering them by frequency and percentage of the population involved.

The map of citizen needs around which we have built the IO Project

Mapping out citizen-administration interactions allowed us to prioritize public services so as to converge them into a single channel, starting with those used more frequently and by the largest number of people.

We then went on to see how different central and local public bodies provided these services and observed what these processes and related technological solutions have in common.

Having identified this “set of fundamental functions”, we started working to understand how the function and flow of each service could be integrated.

Step 2: IO takes shape

We are now in summer of 2018 and the IO Project is no longer just an idea on paper. It has an appearance, buttons, interaction “models” and navigation flows. The application, as an interactive prototype, is tested for the first time to verify if the project is going in the right direction (something we call concept validation).

The testers are ordinary citizens interested in the project, who volunteered themselves as candidates through the Digital Team channels: social media, newsletters, etc. A dozen people interacted with the prototype under observation according to the talk aloud technique: each candidate had to perform tasks (log in, read a notification, make a payment) while commenting out loud on every action taken, every doubt, every difficulty encountered during the interaction.

This type of test allowed us to see if the app, as we had imagined it, was:

  • functional;
  • simple and enjoyable to use;
  • actually useful in meeting users’ needs.
The report (in Italian) on the first test results of the IO prototype Scroll through the images.

This test produced a final report, which allowed us to resolve some doubts and identify the priorities for development in the following months.

Step Three: Experimenting with the application

In November, we started a new test phase. This time we were no longer testing a prototype but a working demo of the application (alpha version, in jargon) connected to the real systems of some PAs and installed on the smartphones of 100 participants for a period of 15 days.

The test’s protagonists were not ordinary citizens: we involved 38 members of parliament, along with about sixty other people selected by the Digital Team from a pool of collaborators and representatives of the public bodies involved in the experimentation.

To perform the test:

  • we invited the participants to install the app on their smartphones;
  • three entities participating in this first phase of experimentation with IO (the City of Milan, the City of Palermo and Aci Informatica) integrated with the platform and allowed us to simulate a test flow of many of the services that will be accessible on the app;
  • we sent each participant more than 20 demo messages (information, deadlines, payment notices, reminders, documents, etc.) within two weeks.

In this way:

  • each participant was able to use the application by replicating and condensing into a few days the experience of a citizen who periodically interacts with the Public Administration;
  • Milan, Palermo and Aci Informatica were able to experience real technical integration, estimate the necessary time to achieve full integration, understand its impact on processes, suggest optimizations.

At the end of the demo, we invited each participant to leave feedback. We asked them to:

  • report any bugs encountered during the use of the application;
  • communicate problems and doubts;
  • suggest proposals for improving the app or integrating other services and features.

This information has once again proved invaluable in confirming and correcting the choices made so far. The new changes and evolutions have become the next goals for the team of designers and developers working on the project.

This presentation (in Italian) shows the results of the IO demo test phase in detail Scroll through the images

Step 4: IO on the smartphones of the first citizens

In the next few months, we will move on to testing real applications of the app. In the spring, IO will be tested by a few thousand citizens throughout Italy who have been selected as beta testers by the institutions participating in the experimentation. These include the Municipalities of Milan, Palermo, Brescia, Cagliari, Cesena, Valsamoggia, Ripalta Cremasca and central agencies such as ACI (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) and the Revenue Agency, etc.

The citizens taking part in this test by invitation (“closed-beta,” in jargon) will be able to use the application to interact with the real services provided by the institutions and carry out operations and payments valid for all purposes.

A brief preview of the features of the closed-beta version of IO

This beta test period will allow us to identify and resolve any critical issues related to operating the application. In addition, institutions will be able to verify the effectiveness of integration with IO services, allowing us to optimize the way in which other entities will be able to become part of the project. Finally, the “by invitation” method can be replicated in future phases of application development to try out new versions, functions or potentialities.

Step 5: IO arrives in stores

Our goal is to publicly release IO in Android and iOS app stores during the second half of 2019.

During this phase, the application can be freely installed by all citizens, but will only be promoted in territories (certainly more than during the closed-beta phase) in which adhesion of local authorities has already allowed a large number of services to become integrated within the app. A “leopard spot” beginning, which will allow us to grow the project through the involvement of an ever-increasing number of institutions and citizens throughout the country.

A project for everyone

Article 64-bis of the Digital Administration Code gives the Presidency of the Council of Ministers the responsibility of activating the “point of electronic access” through which all public bodies “make their services usable”: this is the challenge the Digital Transformation Team has undertaken with the IO project.

The IO project is, first of all, a project belonging to the whole country. This is why we’ve directly involved, along with citizens, professionals from Municipalities, Regions, local and central agencies whose job it is to guarantee the effectiveness of these services. Without the contribution of these two components, it would not have been possible for us to get where we are or count on being able to reach the ambitious goal we’ve shared with you so far.

The IO project therefore wants to symbolize a different and innovative way of creating a new digital platform: a component of the country’s “operating system” that focuses on people and their needs.

This is another reason why IO is a 100 percent open source project. All the code, all the documentation, all the discussions and tools through which the project is carried out everyday are public and easily accessible from the project website. Anyone with the skill and motivation to contribute is welcome and any contribution will help to bring us closer to a future in which “Anna’s story” will be our daily life.

All the details of the IO Project are available on the website.

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