Chapter 1 - Italy and digital services


The aim of this White Paper is to analyse the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on our society and, specifically, how these technologies can be used by Public Administration (PA) to improve services for citizens and businesses. All of this is part of a broader scenario of reflection on the policies to be implemented to facilitate the digital transformation, the engine of social, the economic and the cultural development.

To accelerate this transformation process, it is possible to draw inspiration from international experiences that have brought tangible results: Italy must excel in the search for innovative strategies, perhaps able to feed on the historical, cultural and social wealth of the country and the Mediterranean, and at the same time, succeed in seizing the best that has emerged from the strategies of those countries that were the first in making the evolution of public information technology the lever for transition to a new global structure of the economy and society.

It is therefore necessary to support the country’s innovation forces in order to obtain increasingly competitive models and to initiate a radical change in the relationship between citizens, administrations and the market. The ultimate goal of this process is the creation of modern, easy to use, accessible and high-quality public services therefore oriented, to the understanding of users’ needs thus, allowing the level of citizen satisfaction and trust in the institutions to be increased. The document intends to outline the development prospects of digital public services and the challenges that the country will have to face to implement and use the new technologies while respecting ethics and laws, putting the citizen at the centre of this evolutionary path.

An overview of digital government in Italy

Before describing the state of the art and the future prospects of Artificial Intelligence in our society and in Public Administration, it may be useful to analyse what is happening in the field of digital transformation in the public sector, in order to understand the current situation and imagine how AI can create synergies with the process of digitising the country.

According to data reported in the last Report of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Digital Transformation1, our country is in 5th place worldwide for the production of the most cited scientific documents on machine learning after the United States, China, India and Great Britain (science, innovation and digital revolution). Also in the same Report (section on growth, work and digital transformation), 2015 data on the dissemination of industrial robots show that Italy is among the leading economies in Europe (behind Germany, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic and Slovenia) in terms of use of robots (ex. number of robots compared to the value added in manufacturing), while showing indices equal to 1/3 compared to those of the world leader (South Korea).

As the Digital Economy and Society Index - DESI 2017 [1], Italy is growing, but there is still a gap between the supply of digital services and their actual use. Our country has nevertheless made progress on connectivity, a basic condition to allow the development of a digital ecosystem, thanks also to the Ultra Broadband Plan [2].

According to the data of the Annual Report of the Authority for Communications Guarantees (AGCOM), at present 90.7% of families with at least one minor have a fixed and mobile broadband connection, a figure that stops at 20.7% for families with members aged over 65. At the same time, 91.6% of households with at least one graduate member have a broadband connection, a figure that falls to 55.3% for families in which the highest education is junior high school.

This, once again, highlights the centrality of demand, and not just supply, in stimulating the dissemination of internet-based technologies in Italy. Confirming the importance of the “demand factor” are data on the Italian dynamism of startups and innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In our country, according to a census updated to 2017 [3] they are about 8,000, twice the number compared to 2015, employing 46,107 people, including shareholders and employees. The digital market is growing and the ICT sector is undergoing a development phase thanks to the increase in investments: in 2016, it grew by 1.8% to reach Euro 66 billion in turnover [4].

As too is the demand for high-level digital skills, in a context in which only 29% of the workforce possesses them compared to the EU average of 37% [5].

As for digital public services, as the DESI again confirms, Italy is positioned at the top of the ranking in terms of quantitative supply but has low percentages of use by the population. Also Eurostat partly confirms this fact: a more streamlined relationship with the Public Administration [6], when this is made possible, the tools made available are used by only 13% of citizens compared to a European average of 30% [7].

The Italian digital strategy

In the context of the European Digital Agenda9, Italy has developed its national strategy by converting the EU objectives into initiatives aimed at the digital transformation of public administration [8]. In so doing, the interventions in the public sector become the driving force for business development and the growth of citizens’ skills. The 2014-2020 strategy of the Digital Agenda has therefore become a veritable tool to pursue the great objectives of growth, employment, quality of life and democratic participation. But the challenges of digital transformation have changed quickly: Internet of Things (IoT), big data analytics, Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain are the vectors through which the new digital economy moves. Also to address these issues, in 2017 the three-year plan for information technology in the Public Administration [9]. The Plan contains operating indications (actions, times and objectives) for the development of four pillars: digital ecosystems or policy areas (health, school, justice, etc.), intangible infrastructures (including enabling platforms and PA data), physical infrastructures and cybersecurity. The Plan was created to effectively guide the digital transformation of the country, becoming a reference for central and local administrations in the development of their information systems. It sets the fundamental architectural principles, the rules of usability and interoperability and rationalises ICT expenditure.

Tackling these challenges imposes, however, the identification of a new technical, ethical and regulatory framework that could enable the public sector to address and manage new scenarios, ameliorating the efficiency and effectiveness of existing projects and providing tools and skills for the future ones. At the same time, it is necessary to plan the ways in which to stimulate and accompany the cultural evolution of the country, involving the population, overcoming diversity, reticence and conflict, and identifying new perspectives. The use of Artificial Intelligence tools applied to services, the central subject of this white paper, is only one of the sectors in which Italy is trying to achieve the objectives of the Three-Year Plan for Information Technology in Public Administration. For this specific purpose, the “Artificial Intelligence Task Force at the service of the citizens” [10] was set up to discuss the new possibilities offered by this type of technology, in general in our daily life and, more specifically, in the construction of a new relationship between State and citizens.

Insertion of Supplementary Data Sheets on Projects Linked to the Three-Year Plan (Spid, PagoPa) - by AgID


[3]Ref. Annual Report to Parliament on the state of implementation and the impact of policies in support of Start-ups and Innovative SMEs”, Mise, 2017.
[4]Ref. “Digital in Italy: markets, dynamics, policy 2017”, Assinform, 2017.
[5]See note 1.
[6]Ref. “E-Government benchmark 2017”, European Commission, 2017.
[8]The main objectives are: centralizing planning and public spending in regard; aim at the centrality of user experience and needs; use an architectural approach based on open and standard logics; seek solutions to stimulate cost reduction and improve the quality of services.