The contribution of the Plan for the Digital Transformation of Italy to the realization of the European Digital Agenda

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Digital technologies are transforming society and the economy faster and in new ways, and generating outcomes that are irreversible and unstoppable; social media, smartphones, cloud computing, big data, artificial intelligence are changing the nature of interaction between citizens and institutions. Citizen-users are by now accustomed to obtaining sophisticated, personalized, on-demand services that are easy to use and access and often free of charge; these new forms of consumption are not only driven by their convenience and ease of access but are also supported by a strong relationship of trust that establishes itself between the user and his or her service providers. As pointed out by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and the European Union (EU) , this so-called on-demand economy represents an unusual challenge for the public sector.

Not only do citizen-users expect public institutions to provide and distribute services with the same ease of use and access, but they would also like to give the provider “government” the same trust they are accustomed to giving quality private providers.

There is another important aspect to consider. The complexity and cumbersome quality of public services often encountered by citizens tends to be perceived not only as a simple inefficiency but also as a deliberate lack of transparency. As citizens confidently place their trust in private platforms with good reputations (e-commerce, social media, online banking, etc.), they paradoxically increase feelings of mistrust and intolerance towards institutions that are not yet able to offer the same quality of service.

Over the last twenty years, digital government (e-government) has led to the progressive use of digital technologies (ICT) in the activities of the public sector. To improve, on the one hand, the efficiency and productivity of administration processes, and, on the other hand, offer citizen-users (whether they are private or corporate) services that are increasingly more user-centric. In the latter case, there is still much to do.

Both the OECD and the European Commission are now recommending a turning point.

Digital government is not only about reorganizing processes through technology or moving services online. It is an actual digital transformation of the Public Administration, a transformation that requires the early integration of digital technologies into services and the decision-making process. It is time for the PA to fully adopt the operational model of the “networked computer age” so that it can increase its efficiency and productivity, and establish a relationship of trust with its citizens.

The digital government doesn’t simply respond to the needs of an increasingly demanding “new citizen”, it is an integral part of the urgently needed changes that contribute to the growth of the Country as a whole.

The Three Year Plan, which guides the digital transformation of the Italian Public Administration within the context of the Strategy for Digital Growth, is consistent with the EU’s objectives and the OECD policy recommendations. Designed to be a dynamic document, it is the reference document for digital policy: it identifies, for a specific time horizon, the principle objectives and the most innovative technological solutions necessary to accompany and accelerate the pace of the digital transformation of our Country.

In fact, digital transformation should be conceptualized as both a process of continuous improvement of existing digital services and introduction of new services and new technologies to the ecosystem.

It will be often necessary to monitor and review the processes to ensure maximum efficiency.

But because it’s not always possible to move from the physical transaction window to the virtual one without the necessary adjustment of the regulatory framework, the definition of the Plan was accompanied, in parallel, by a coordinated and coherent proposal for a revision of the CAD (Digital Administration Code) to introduce all the legal and regulatory changes necessary for fostering integration, collaboration and sharing among all the institutional players and to support the transformation of the digital government. We are hopeful that this new version of the CAD will be approved in the summer of 2017.

The European Union’s eGovernment Action Plan 2016–2020 “Accelerating the digital transformation of government,” (1) sets an ambitious target for all Member States:

By 2020, public administrations and public institutions in the European Union should be open, efficient and inclusive, providing borderless, personalized, user-friendly, end-to-end digital public services to all citizens and business in the EU. Innovative approaches are used to design and deliver better services in line with the needs and demands of citizens and businesses. Public administrations use the opportunities offered by the new digital environment to facilitate their interactions with stakeholders and with each other.

In order to identify the elements of a clear and coherent digital strategy that will allow the Public Administration to become a technologically advanced entity responding to the needs of its citizens, the European Commission has introduced a few specific guiding principles. The Agency for Digital Italy (AgID) and the Digital Transformation Team have, through their combined work on the Three Year Plan, sought to set digital strategy in line with the seven general principles set forth by the EU. They have also endeavored to make the principles relevant by identifying several possible areas of design application.

Digital by Default

Public administrations should deliver services digitally (including machine readable information) as the preferred option (while still keeping other channels open for those who are disconnected by choice or necessity).

The Three-Year Plan is, as a whole, shaped by the so-called principle of “digital by definition,” which specifies that the PA provide digital services as the preferred option, while remaining open to other preferences. Conceived of as a systematic process, the Plan provides for the “exercising” of certain fundamental components. In other words, these are the “Lego bricks” for the construction of digital services. To name just a few: SPID (eID) or CIE (Electronic Identity Card), PagoPA (ePayments), eDelivery, the adoption of standards, universal architectures and norms (especially with regard to public data), and an increasingly efficient aggregation of public spending through eProcurement, interoperability, design guidelines, open source, etc.

Once only principle

Public administrations should ensure that citizens and businesses supply the same information only once to a public administration.

SPID, the public system for creating a single digital identity for accessing public and some private services, is one of the enabling platforms that accelerate and standardize the development of digital services for citizens and businesses. SPID, along with ANPR (National Resident Population Register), in which all data related to citizen identity are standardized and treated in a homogenous manner, are the enabling conditions for guaranteeing that the citizen doesn’t have to submit the same data every time he or she requests public service, data that the Public Administration, as a whole, is already in possession of. It is therefore a valid solution for enabling, in the future, the recognition of citizen identity, even at the European level.

Openness and transparency of data and administrative processes

Public administrations should share information and data between themselves and enable citizens and businesses to access control and correct their own data.

The Data and Analytics Framework (DAF) is the tool that the PA will use to maximize the value of public information assets, break down the barriers inhibiting data and information exchange, improve and simplify the interoperability of public data between Public Administrations and to standardize and promote the diffusion of Open Data. The DAF introduces a new way of operating and processing the data needed to create intelligent applications for the PA, citizens and businesses. That’s not all. The reduction of barriers in data exchange is also an enabling factor for possible developments of the once only principle.

Interoperability by default

Public services should be designed to work seamlessly across the Single Market and across organisational silos, relying on the free movement of data and digital services in the European Union.

This principle is the foundation on which the design of all national projects is built. The new model of interoperability aims at ensuring that public administrations have automatic access to citizens data , without forcing them to travel from one office to the other delivering data or documents already held by public authorities, as it happens today. At the same time, the model is intended to deliver the administrations from the burden of the operational difficulties involved in writing software. To ensure correct functionality, the Plan conceives a central authority that will prescribe the new rules to make all systems fully interoperable and able to communicate with other systems. The central authority will add all services complying with these features to a catalogue that collects elements that may be used to build new functionalities useful for citizens.

Trustworthiness and security

All initiatives should go beyond the mere compliance with the legal framework on personal data protection and privacy, and IT security, by integrating those elements in the design phase.

The Three Year Plan defines the objectives and relative actions to be taken in order to define and protect the ICT components of the Public Administrations from the point of view of information security. Keeping in mind the design of increasingly secure and “guaranteed” services, among the qualifying points of this action is the expectation, among the other considered measures, of the development and handling of a National Vulnerability Database (NVD), a catalog of vulnerabilities that integrates those available at an international level (e.g. MITRE) with those found on systems developed within the nation.

Of the seven principles of the European Plan, which underlie the overall strategy and actions of the Italian Three Year Plan, two have already been enacted with the terms and procedures outlined below, and will be closely monitored.

Inclusiveness and accessibility

Public administrations should design digital public services that are inclusive by default and cater for different needs such as those of the elderly and people with disabilities.

The principle of accessibility is a fundamental element of the digital citizenship of our Country. Italy was among the first European countries to adopt the principles of accessibility (2). On December 2, 2016, the 2016/2102 Directive on the accessibility of the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies (Web Accessibility Directive – WAD) was published and the AgID workgroup continues to make an active contribution to the review phase at the European headquarters. The dynamically conceptualized Plan will not fail to adapt to the new demands posed by evolving standards that might develop during the course of this three-year period.

Cross-border by default

Public administrations should make relevant digital public services available across borders and prevent further fragmentation to arise, thereby facilitating mobility within the Single Market.

This is what will happen, for example, with the FICEP node created by AgID. This infrastructure will allow an Italian citizen to use his or her SPID identity for obtaining services from the Public Administration of any country in the European Union and, at the same time, will allow access to the services of the Italian PA by European citizens with our own national services of digital identity.

The Plan is now facilitating our Country to actively participate in the European Union’s construction of a modern public administration, increasingly responsive to the needs of citizen-users.

The components of the digital transformation represent stages of a complex path that can only be completed with a shared and participatory effort.

(1) COM (2016) 179, 19.4.2016.

(2) Stanca Law n. 4, January 9 2004.