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Digital Italy: we are still behind

The Digital Economy and Society Index 2020 puts us at the bottom of the EU ranking: the key issue remains that of digital skills, which is reflected in every area

Broadband connectivity (and perhaps ultrabroadband), skills related to digital, use of the Internet by citizens, digitization of businesses, development of digital public services. These are the indicators that lead to define the “score” of each nation in the Digital Economy and Society Index of the European Union. And that even for the2020 edition, referring to the 2019 surveys, does not outline a pleasant portrait of Italy. Right at the beginning of its hoped-for revival path.

Since 2015, Italy has grown, as an Index, slightly more than the EU average of the increases in digital competitiveness of the same period. But it still lags behind in the DESI score, placing itself for 2020 in twenty-fifth place out of 28 nations. Only Romania, Greece, Bulgaria have done worse than us. And as always at the top of the ranking are the nations of the North: Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Holland.

What is holding back Italy? A bit of network infrastructure. If for connectivity on the fixed network in general we can not complain (we are eighth), we are behind (fourteenth) in the spread of fixed broadband connections, from over 30 Mbps, and above all (position 22) in the spread of connections beyond the gigabit. Which are practically absent in areas cataloged as rural.

What does not help us is the “take up” of broadband. Even where the connections are there, they are underutilized compared to the EU average. Only about 60% of Italian families have a broadband subscription compared to an average of about 80% (we are third last for this aspect). Obviously it is worse for connections of at least 100 Mbps (behind us only four nations). It does not help that almost 80% of Italian connections are only xDSL and not better.

On the mobile side, however, the situation is good. The Italian 4G coverage is almost total – but it is in all EU nations, in fact in the ranking we are nineteenth – and the number of 5G projects implemented at the time of the surveys (13) is one of the highest. It is also good that Italy is the EU nation that has already allocated as much radio spectrum as possible for next-generation wireless communications.

Digital skills and businesses

Italy’s key problem, which is also well known, is the lack of diffusion of digital skills. For the Digital Economy and Society Index we are overall last in the EU. More in detail: fourth last for basic skills in the use of software, which owns about 45% of citizens (the EU average is 60%), third last for the use of online transactional services, fifth last for the time spent on the Web.

This lack of digital propensity is also reflected in the business world. The Digital Intensity Index, which measures the use in companies of various digital technologies, sees us as twenty-first. The use of cloud services of “medium-high complexity” stops at about 15% of companies (EU average about 19%). Only 7% of Italian companies analyze Big Data (average 12%) and less than 10% sell online on their site (average 15%). For all the various detail rankings, we are closer to the bottom of the ranking than to its half.

It is not surprising, in this scenario, that even the PA is struggling. We are last in the EU by obligation to send digital documents to administrations. But we improve in the possibility of having forms generically already pre-filled by the PA with the data already known and to completely digitally carry out some transactions with the PA. The scenario that can be guessed is that of an improvingdigitalization of the PA, driven by some particularly successful processes and services. Among other things, Italy is among the EU countries where PA services for companies operate better at a trans-national level and where more use is made of Open Data (we are eighth).

Looking ahead

Averages can say a lot or little, as has been known since the days of Trilussa chickens. And the figures for 2019 obviously do not contemplate the strong acceleration of digitization (forced, but so much so) of the pandemic period. Even in the EU evaluation there are positive signs for Italy. Which, for example, has an important position in the market related to the collection and digital processing of data. In the EU it is estimated at 72 billion euros for 2018 and is made, for 75%, by six nations: United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Holland. The main positive sign probably lies in the importance that ICT now has in the Italian entrepreneurial fabric.

In the ICT field in Italy work about 650 thousand employees, 9% of the national workforce. And Italy in 2017 invested something like 2.4 billion in research and development in the ICT field. Only France, the UK and Germany employ more people and invest more than us.

The negative signal is that Italy moves little from the positions it has recently conquered. The overall score and those for the individual areas of the European Index vary very little over time and not always in crescendo. And they still remain below the EU average. Considering the average of the period 2015-2018, Italy in fact marks gaps with the EU average for the overall index (37 against 48), connectivity (59 against 62), digital skills (27 against 42), the use of the Internet (34 against 47), the integration of digital technologies in the company (19 against 41), the digital PA (52 against 56). If there is an opportunity to improve quickly, it is time to seize it.

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