Towards the new “operating system” of the country

Go to the profile of Diego Piacentini
Dec 21, 2016
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We have decided to follow the advice of João Gilberto, one of the masters of bossa nova, who said to a young Enrico Rava during his years in New York: “Only play the necessary notes. Try not to play the others”.

A good jazz musician knows that playing great music is – sometimes more than anything else – also about playing less. A musician must know when to pause, how to breathe and be able to listen to other musicians to create the perfect harmony. In our hyper-connected era of social media, the risk of communicating more than what’s necessary – confusing what needs to be said with the superfluous – is high.

Towards the new “operating system” of the country

Technological competence and first plans

Nobody can realistically think that two years – the duration of the mandate of the Digital Transformation Team – is enough time to digitalize the Public Administration of Italy. Our goal is to set in motion a process of change that will ensure that digitalization goes from being something “extraordinary” to being the norm for the PA. Having said that, my main objective will be, paradoxically, to make sure that my own role of “special commissioner” ceases to exist.

At the end of September, I wrote: “Now I need to create this team. Without an enthusiastic and competent pool of talents, I will not go too far. I, therefore, decided to write my first post addressing those potential candidates directly”. The response we’ve received has far exceeded even our highest expectations. We have been literally flooded with talent from the highest levels of experience and today, after dozens of evaluations and interviews, we present you with the results from our selection.

The new members of our team are Italians who are returning from Rhode Island, Berlin, New York, Silicon Valley, Zurich; others have come from every corner of the boot (Rome, Florence, Milan, Trento, Brescia, Palermo, Padova); nearly all of them have come from positions in top technology companies, both startups and multinationals and also, to our surprise and delight, from agencies in the Public Administration.

There are people who have four degrees and people who never finished university. Either because they created their own startup or began work for a company that sought their unique and unparalleled talent. Some of our new team members obtained a leave of absence and will, at the conclusion of our mission, return to their companies with a suitcase of experiences to share. Experiences of success but also, importantly, of failure. Speaking with the leaders of their companies helped me understand, even more than I already did, the deeply shared nature of our mission.

The “operating system” of the country: a series of fundamental blocks upon which Services for citizens, the Public Administration, and enterprises are built with modern digital products.

The primary objective of our team is to build the foundations, to start creating the core components of this operating system. We will strive to achieve this vision by adopting a management style that is agile, collaborative and efficient and by sharing our work with citizens, businesses and the Public Administration.

But how can I explain in layman’s terms why we need to build an “operating system”? An ‘operating system’ for the country will solve the problems reported to us by citizens almost every day. The following is a good example:

[…] The public administration often asks us to produce documents (or self-certification) that declare what they already know. We also have to go round in ridiculous circles just to get services. The latest ordeal I managed to survive was my passport renewal.. While searching through the State Police website, I discovered that now we can get an “electronic passport”! But my enthusiasm quickly diminished when I discovered that I can use the website only to make an appointment to bring my application in and to download a partially compiled application form (missing, naturally, the usual information that the public administration already knows). I also discovered that in order to present my application to the police station, first I have to buy a special stamp from the tobacco shop to pay administrative tax, then to the post office to get a receipt showing I payed for the passport (with the usual service surcharge of 1,50 Euro). How is it possible that I still can’t make online payments or pay directly at the police station (with an ATM or credit card) when I present my application? On top of all this, I also have to bring the usual two passport size photos. […] Of course, the photos I brought have to be attached to the application before one of them is scanned (along with my signature) so it can then be printed onto the passport!!! Why am I being asked for a printed photo that is just going to be scanned? Wouldn’t it be simpler to have a small webcam to take a picture of me at the presentation of my application? And have a better quality photo as well (something that is regularly done in other European countries and more besides!)?

Despite what it seems, the “glass is half full,” not “half empty.” The steps to renew a passport have improved over the last few years. Appointment times (now frequently available online) and passport delivery (which you can now comfortably receive at home via mail) now match the standards of many other countries. However, there are still many silos in the process, elements that are still not integrated to a larger whole, like those described in the example.

The following post from Alfonso Fuggetta of Cefriel explains one of many problems regularly endured not only by citizens but also by businesses; I will highlight one of the key points:

The ‘Documento Unico di Regolarità Contributiva’ (DURC) did not need to be digitalized, it needed to be abolished. Not because we don’t need to control the regularity of contribution payments (obviously!). But because the DURC is the wrong way to deal with the problem and to digitalize it doesn’t do much except crystallize the problem. The DURC exists because whoever has to verify the payment of contributions from a business cannot to do it directly and automatically with “INPS”. Instead, it has to turn the burden over to the company itself who then has to get the DURC from the INPS to then “pass it over” to whoever is running the check. In order to “innovate,” the DURC was digitalized and made available as a PDF through a website and PEC (ndr: certified email). But this is not the real solution and it is not real innovation.

This is the consequence of antiquated technological systems that don’t talk to each other (are not interoperable) and that have, until today, limited themselves to translating processes created for an analogue bureaucracy. When these processes are digitalized, so are their inefficiencies.

The entities cited in these two examples have nothing to be offended by: this is not an excuse to complain but a means of explaining to citizens why digitalization isn’t about simply slinging together an assemblage of technological projects.

There are many other areas an operating system can be useful in. We don’t think that simply identifying objectives and focusing on problems will bring new or original results. True innovation will result from our determination, our technological choices, and our methods.

The problem we face isn’t a new one. We’ve been able to address some inefficiencies through legislation but what’s missing here is a clear execution and the reengineering of processes using the new technologies available to us. And it’s not just about solving Italian problems. This type of problem exists everywhere in the field of Public Administration, although at different levels of digital maturity. It exists in countries whose technological solutions and processes we have been vigorously studying, like the rest of Europe, the United States and Australia as well as in the wider global community. One thing we need to make clear, however, is that innovation is not a point of arrival but a continuous journey. We can never permit ourselves the luxury of feeling that we have arrived: tomorrow we will always have to do better than today.

A distinct aspect of the digital industry is its continuous iteration: the repeated production of partial or imperfect versions of a digital product, that are continuously re-released and improved upon (by responding to user feedback). It’s not like this out of habit or whim. It’s like this because, with technology that is constantly and rapidly evolving, this is the only way to innovate while simultaneously providing a product that is easy to use and remains at the forefront of development and ideas.

In the next few days, we will start sharing our plans with you. We will do this via a post (and not a PEC! Certified Electronic Email) signed by the team members responsible for each of the programs. These will also be published on Digital Transformation Team website. Security is the first goal of our manifesto and will always remain our primary concern. Points 2–4 are projects already underway, at different stages of execution; they involve the quality of technologies utilized, the user interface, and simplicity of use. We are, in fact, collaborating with AgID, the Ministry of Public Service, the Ministry of the Interior, and various enterprises and associations and the agencies that developed their technological capacities (ever heard of project management?). Points 5–10 are possible new programs (and not all of them are our own original ideas), while 11–12 are explanations of our institutional role. I am enthusiastic about all of them, but the ninth in particular has the potential to truly increase the productivity of the country by allowing us to save hundreds of millions of hours and contributing directly towards economic development. It is also the most complex program, the one that touches on the most interests and legacies and is the one that will continue for the longest period of time. Our program is still evolving. Our ambition is to do much more, but we have to start somewhere.

1. SECURITY “Responsible disclosure  between ethical and non-ethical hackers”

There is no such thing as “secure” software: security is an iterative process in which flaws must be continuously identified and resolved. We want to create a policy that can explain how to report a security problem to those who uncover them, thereby helping to protect users by enabling a prompt resolution. We will incentivize so-called “ethical hackers” to help us in our task.

2. ANPR (Anagrafe Nazionale Popolazione Residente) “Information must be singular and located in a singular place”

These days our identities are spread across eight thousand city registers. Personal information must be combined into one single register. This will enable the country to become more efficient and will save us money and energy by simplifying a variety of procedures and unifying them at a national level. It will become possible to obtain certificates without having to visit the city office, and citizens will no longer have to worry about sharing personal information or a change of residence with every office of the Public Administration. This is the first step of many possible innovations that today would be too expensive or even impossible to execute. This is part of an already ongoing process that we are now pushing towards completion.

3. PAGOPA “One click payments”

One click payments are a better, more intuitive way for citizens to transfer money to the Public Administration. Payments will be immediate, fast, and more cost-effective for the country. Citizens should be able to choose, with minimal friction, a modern payment method that is integrated with the general market and to which may be added new payment technologies as they evolve. We want to make the system as flexible and open as possible.

4. SPID (Sistema Pubblico di Identità Digitale) “A person’s identity is one, is certain, is forever.

A secure digital identity (SPID) that is easy to use and obtain. Citizens and enterprises can use it identify themselves with the Public Administration and access public services without having to carry identity papers or fill out numerous online forms. Once you have obtained SPID, you can use it to authenticate yourself on all Public Administration websites without having to follow varied and complicated procedures. One account and one password for all services.

5. APPLICATIONS THAT TALK TO EACH OTHER “An API ecosystem”

The Public Administration’s information systems must connect with each other and speak the same language so that information can be available whenever and wherever is necessary. If applications are able to communicate with each other, a citizen or public official will never have to extract information from a system, perhaps validating it with a stamp before inserting it into another system. Nor will citizens have to waste time supplying the Public Administration with information that is already available. All applications will be required to use an application programming interface (API) and work in an integrative, collaborative and secure way, facilitating the use of already existing applications upon which to build more powerful and innovative solutions. A few central components (immaterial infrastructure) will provide a base of functionality; every macro silo will concentrate on the applications specific to the ecosystem (for example the ecosystems of health, education, judiciary, fiscal, enterprise, etc.). Interfaces need to be open-source wherever possible and become enabling tools for private interests to use in developing applications that can interact with the Public Administration. Citizens will be able to enter their information into the system once and once only.

6. COMMUNITY “From individualism to teamwork”

Italy is filled with wonderful digital talent, many of whom have been contacting us at this time. How can we use the energy and enthusiasm surrounding our mission to maximum advantage? We have to change the way the Public Administration operates by using standard and open source software, and implementing publically documented APIs. The language we use must be technical rather than juridical, so as to more effectively engage an innovative community of software developers.

7. AN OPENSOURCE PROJECT “Made-to-measure services and digital content for citizens and enterprises”

We want to build made-to-measure services for citizens and digital enterprises, conceived of and designed with their needs in mind. The smartphone is currently the most widely used digital device: we can fit the whole world into our pocket with our telephones, we also need to be able to fit public services. To achieve this objective, we intend to offer guidelines, examples and rapid software development kits that can help administrations provide a modern, coherent, and simple user experience for all citizens. Because digital products and their interfaces are a living body that evolve alongside user needs and digital innovations, we would like to introduce a logic of development and continual improvement. We want to think about language and together rewrite the principles of communication that exist between the Public Administration, enterprises and citizens.

8. DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP “You decide how to be contacted by the PA, even on your smartphone”

A different way for the Public Administration to communicate with us, notify us of proceedings, and remind us of approaching expiration dates. A digital home, accessible via smartphone, from which to receive notifications even while in transit, eliminating the need for standing in long and useless lines, enabling us to express our preferences and update contact information. A Public Administration that travels to the citizen and not vice versa. To do this, we will openly collaborate with communities of designers, content and social media strategists, information architects, producers of digital content and user experience research experts. We will ask them for suggestions and contributions toward issues on the agenda and get feedback on our decisions.

9. ONE FOR ALL AND ALL FOR ONE “An administrative procedural standard in digital, designed to exercise your individual rights”

We are all citizens of the same country and yet, when we go to apply for a permit, authorization or security clearance from local government, the procedures we must comply with are so different and so many that it suddenly feels like we’re dealing with a medieval feudal system of totally independent states rather than a local articulation of the same state. A digitalized public administration requires that the procedures, modules and forms that citizens and enterprises adhere to are standardized, without distinction between municipalities and regions. We must avoid the risk of forgetting these rules by giving immediate digital form to the new procedural standards. A single platform, simple, modern, open, and transparent.

10. DATA & ANALYTICS  OPEN DATA From “this is my information and I will manage it” to “this information is open and shareable”

This calls for an end to private information silos belonging to this or that administration. Public information is a public good and a precious resource for the country. Like an oil deposit, it can be explored and mined to extract value. We want a new interface through which individual administrations might openly communicate with each other and freely share information and API. This will enable the birth of new, previously unimaginable services and data applications centered on fulfilling the needs of citizens. With the highest respect for privacy norms and in total technological safety.

11. FROM CODES TO CODE “Rules of digital administration”

We have to start writing fewer laws and more software [fewer codes and more code]. We also need to make sure that the laws themselves – which are, by definition, both general and abstract – depict only those principles capable of resisting the passage of time and incapable of burdening us with innovations and technologies of the past. Detailed regulations will need to be translated into bits. The conventions of information exchange between administrations in APIs, and administrative procedures in which the discretionary activity of the administration is either absent or modest, will be transformed into more efficient and democratic machine to machine protocols.

12. INTERNET GOVERNANCE “Play our role in a global community that dictates the rules of the web”

Digital evolution and innovations have been, are and always will be natural transformative factors of social, economic and political dynamics. They are radically changing the face of the world we once knew. It no longer makes sense to continue discussing national laws, decrees and regulations in relation to transnational issues that rise and fall (at bitrate, no less). We would like to return our country to the role it deserves in a community of European and International multi stakeholders busily engaged in discussing and establishing the rules of the web.

The order of the day is this: SIMPLIFICATION, simplification, and again, simplification.


Diego Piacentini

Go to the profile of Diego Piacentini

Diego Piacentini

Commissioner for Digital Transformation Italian Government , Italian Presidency of the Council of Ministers

General Manager Apple Europe (1987-1999) Sr VP International Consumer Business Amazon.com (2000-2016)

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