Andrea DiMaio

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
15 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies strategies, Web 2.0, open government, cloud computing, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio

One, hundreds, thousands digital champions won’t solve the problem

by Andrea Di Maio  |  November 30, 2014  |  2 Comments

Italy has recently joined other European countries that have named a so-called “digital champion“.

The individual chosen for this task is Riccardo Luna, a former sport journalist who has a sharp interest in anything digital and previously headed the Italian version of the Wired magazine. Unlike others in his role, he has immediately called for one digital champion per town to be named (there are over 8,000 towns in Italy). This was based on the recognition that this was the only way to address the peculiarities of very different parts of the country. In an event held in Rome last week, the first hundred digital champions were named. This is a very diverse crowd, including some  old-timers who have been around previous incarnation of e-government programs, all the way to some minors (as young as 13-year old), which some have seen as just a marketing move.

All digital champions – including Luna – are not paid and have no budget. This can be seen as both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because in previous times the availability of money through national or European programs has led to a dispersion and waste of resources, often consumed by (or under the auspices of) an army of self-appointed experts and various consulting outfits: having no budget means that people who do this join will do so because they have a genuine passion. A curse because this may lead some of them to pursue the research of funding sources sooner rather than later.

As usual in the country, this appointment and the subsequent events have polarized opinions between those who believe this is going to be a game changer and those who criticize the choices and some lack of transparency in how things have been handled so far.

I believe that the very role of digital champion is not what the country (and Europe as a whole) need right now. Or, better, the challenge is not to evangelize and sing the praises of everything digital, but to understand how digital can help overcome those very issues it has created. With youth unemployment heading toward a staggering 50%, continued recession and now deflation, Italy is a poster child of a country that has been somewhat victimized by digital technology. Plagued by infrastructural issues, weak political support for technology investments and the inability or unwillingness to group and share resources and best practices across cities (due to historical competition among them), Italy keeps slipping behind in terms of GDP, income per capita, IP creation and practically any other indicator that measures the wealth of a country.

This is why the role of a digital champion as it has been conceived by the EU years ago is no longer current. The challenge is to both understand the structural and sustained disruption caused by digital technologies to economy and society and to devise how they can help face such disruption and change the course. This requires to analyze loads of data to identify trends and patterns that would tell policy-makers what industry sectors can be salvaged and transformed, which cannot, and which new industries can emerge. It requires to take a hard look at how to transform primary, secondary and tertiary education to prepare new generations to a world that is very different from the one we grew up in. It requires to rethink the way government is organized, looking for massive aggregation of local authorities in the same way countries like Denmark did it years ago, and rebalancing of responsibilities across government tiers.

Digital needs to be taken far more seriously or its champions will be nothing else than the band playing on the deck of a sinking Titanic.

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Category: e-government     Tags: , ,

Five Dos and Five Dont’s for the New Italian Digital Leader

by Andrea Di Maio  |  July 11, 2014  |  4 Comments

On July 10th the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced that new Director general of the Italian Digital Agency would be Alessandra Poggiani. This announcement came after over 150 people applied for the position, made vacant after the previous DG, Agostino Ragosa, resigned. This is the first time a woman has been appointed for the topmost IT position in Italy, and her resume is very encouraging. She won the competition among a bunch of high caliber individuals, including global CIOs of multinational companies, CEOs of prestigious research centers, experienced professionals who held IT executive roles in previous governments, and several top-notch consultants and experts in the field.

Despite her strengths and  achievements so far, Alessandra is faced with an incredibly tough challenge, as there are huge expectations driven by a new and ambitious prime minister and an assumption that this particular government will succeed where most previous governments have repeatedly failed. The context is certainly more favorable:  there is a plan to reform and streamline the public administration, which is one of the most complex and large in the world. Such complexity mostly due to the structure and the history of the country and partly due to the inability of governments to realize any significant change over the last several years. However the context is not enough for her to sail toward successful impact and transformation.

As I have relatively little exposure to the intricacies of what happens in my country, and have the pleasure of leading an international team of analysts who advise clients worldwide on similar challenges on a daily basis, I would like to offer my unbiased, and indeed totally personal, perspective about what she may wish to do and not to do as she takes on this humongous  task.

Here are five things not to do

  • Do not decide  by committee. In government, and certainly in Italy, there is a tendency to involve too many people in making a decision. Task forces, experts, “tables” (Italian politicians use this term to indicate the need for all stakeholders to sit around a table to discuss and decide about different matters) can be useful tools to inform her decisions but not to decide on her behalf. While this is not the private sector, managerial courage is required at this critical point in time.
  • Do not assume that people outside government know better than people inside. When I was in government, I should often call in an external expert to tell my political masters something that one of my colleagues could have easily (and more cheaply) said. This is often because of a combination of objectivity, independence and plain mistrust. There are plenty of great people, with experience, passion and skills in the public sector, and they just need an environment that is conducive to them taking initiatives. At the same time, the Italian landscape is full of self-proclaimed digital experts, many of which have gained visibility through a smart use of social media, and often have little understanding of the peculiarities and intricacies of the public sector.
  • Do not focus on making the whole country digital. One of the traditional ambiguities for somebody in such a role is that there is an expectation that his or her actions will also aim at increasing the adoption of digital technology in all industry sectors. Whether schools adopt digital learning platforms,  small and medium sized manufacturers move into 3D printing, or the hospitality sector makes a much smarter use of mobile technology should not be her concern. Digital policies should be an integral part of all ministries’ agendas, and they should be leading from their specific portfolio’s perspective. Alessandra’s remit should be limited to helping transform government processes through digital technology, and she  should operate at a level that allows all other ministries to leverage her achievements in their respective digital tasks. Also, she should not be influenced by the worry that the Italian (and European) IT industry may be lagging behind: while she will have an impact by pulling the procurement lever, any positive action favoring national or European players should not be her concern.
  • Do not pick the low-hanging fruits. I understand that the temptation for somebody facing such a great challenge is to focus on the simplest things that lead to the fastest outcomes. I also suspect that this particular government is looking for something quick to show to citizens before the next elections. But Alessandra should market internally that this is not a sprint but a marathon, and in order for transformation to be sustainable, we need to change principles and foundations, arguably not the easiest and fastest task to tackle.
  • Do not drink your EU colleagues’ kool-aid. Holding the EU presidency for the second  half of the year means that Italy will be even more exposed than usual to what other countries do in many areas, including government IT. While learning what the Government Digital Service in the UK is doing or knowing more about the French or Dutch approaches to a national cloud is certainly helpful, it is imperative to put all these in perspective. It is important to distinguish PR from reality, to be able to get insights from those in the trenches who are supposed to comply with what her European colleagues are proposing, to look beyond the EU as well as at state&local rather than national levels, in order to get a number of stimuli and inspirations to choose from.  We should not forget that over 15 years of e-government, with all their ranking,s benchmarks and best practice exchanges, have shown that there are fundamental differences in regulations, procedures, culture that may make the greatest success somewhere an embarrassing failure somewhere else.

And here are five things to consider

  • Do pick one battle  at a time. Alessandra will be given a long list of objectives, but she needs to be clear about what she can realistically accomplish by when. Of course it is not possible to do only one thing, but I would suggest to focus on winning one battle at a time. Focus is of the utmost importance.
  • Do focus where you can make a difference. Part of being focused includes understanding the perimeter of her influence. Her predecessor spent considerable energies dealing with regional and local authorities, in order to rationalize infrastructure and help spend EU money available for infrastructure modernization at the same time. While he did arguably do a good job, he did not accomplish much at the national level, which was where this role actually sit. So Alessandra  may consider to make a greater impact on national government while playing an advisory role only for regional and local, and possibly rely on others to make that happen. Incidentally this is one example of not picking a low-hanging fruit. Of course I get that there has to be continuity with what her predecessor did, but I would definitely advocate for a different balance, probably a challenge since Alessandra’s current role is in local government IT.
  • Do choose who to work with. Apparently her predecessor had a difficult time at hiring the right people and surrounded himself with some collaborators who hadn’t been officially employed. I would argue that while this was one of the reasons why he had to resign, he was right in trying to get the right people on board. It might just take longer than hoped, but Alessandra should not give up picking her closer collaborators.
  • Do use scenario planning. The future is increasingly uncertain and betting on any given approach is hardly sustainable. A good example is the effort that her predecessor put on building some form of national cloud. Whether  this is a sustainable approach and makes sense depends on a number of factors like the availability and usability of EU-based cloud resources from international vendors,  investments planned by local vendors,  likelihood that local governments and even small-and-medium sized business will adopt a government-sponsored cloud service. Since all these are highly uncertain, it would be helpful to use  approaches that deal with uncertainty, such as scenario planning.
  • Do liaise with other great women in IT. Finally, there are several great woman on the IT scene, as I have pointed out in previous posts. I am intimately convinced that women can handle complex challenges like this better than man and I am sure that having a forum to exchange experiences and tips with female current and former national CIOs and digital leaders would be a great complement to Alessandra’s weaponry.

I wish Alessandra the best of luck and I hope that she  will get the support she needs and deserves to be successful in tackling a challenging but potentially rewarding task.

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Category: Europe and IT     Tags: , ,

Will A Digital Father’s Day Ever Be the Same?

by Andrea Di Maio  |  March 19, 2014  |  4 Comments

In my country today is Father’s Day . This morning my 17-year old son and my 20-year old daughter handed me their handwritten wishes. They were wonderful as usual, and made me feel their love.  Shortly after I read from a Facebook friend that his younger daughters had sent their wishes via WhatsApp, and I could sense some pride in his words.

I am happy for him he felt that way, but I would not. There are certain things that won’t be replaced by digital assets, and those two tender handwritten notes are the perfect example. Father’s Day would not be the same without the gesture of handing over those little notes or making me find them somewhere, pretty much like I did with my father: under the dish or under the pillow or in the inside pocket of his jacket. Touching that paper, looking at the different handwriting, at those discontinuities that show when they had second thoughts about the choice of a word, comparing those notes year over year to just see how their handwriting has changed and they have grown into teenagers and beyond.  These emotions will be lost when all we’ll be left with will be a bunch of digital cards, messages sent and received among hundreds of others, lost in the background noise of social media.

Does this make me a luddite? Does the fact that I still feel the importance of a physical contact with the written words mean I am a dinosaur who is ready for extinction? Or are there emotions that cannot be replaced by anything digital?

As people around the world cry for more digital economy, digital business, digital government, digital education, we should take a deep breath and reflect about the long term implications of these changes in many aspects of our lives.

When I was a kid I used to accompany my mother for some errands at the local stores: the grocery, the bakery, the butcher. In each of those there was an opportunity to chat and get to know people living in the neighborhood. Me and my wife shop in large malls where we get in and get out without meeting anybody we actually know. My kids will have merchandise talk to them and smart shopping even anticipating their needs, most likely without moving from their couch.

When I was a kid I would go to the restaurant with parents or friends to have a good time and a good conversation. Today as I look around at people sitting at restaurants they are all having virtual conversations with people who are not at their table or – at most – looking for other restaurants’ ratings to compare. My kids will probably have meals at their place in a virtual environment with other folks, without sharing the same place and time.

Indeed we’ll achieve wonderful things and the quality of life for many of us will improve. Preventative health care, better emergency services, more personalized education, much more information and much more relevant for any decision we need to take. But inevitably we will be losing a few things. The magic of a letter at Father’s Day is one of them. The real question is whether we know which kind of people we’ll become when they are all gone.

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Open Source in Government: Back to the Future

by Andrea Di Maio  |  February 5, 2014  |  2 Comments

Yesterday I read an interesting news about the UK government planning to move decisively toward open source in order to reduce both software cost and dependency on specific vendors, such as Microsoft.

This reminds me of a flurry of announcements in the early part of the last decade, when cities, regions and entire countries decided for positive discrimination in favor of open source. At the time, most of the discussion was centered around the need to adopt an open standard in order to increase choice and reduce lock-in :Open Document Format (ODF) was the only one available and it was supported only by open source software such as openOffice. Since then, Microsoft succeeded in getting its own OfficeOpenXML through the standardization process, and at the same it decided to allow  ODF documents to be read and saved in Office. Open source replacements of Microsoft products had different rates of success: some organizations, such as the French Police or the Singapore Ministry of Defense,  were entirely successful while for others there have been different viewpoint on success (like for the City of Munich or the City of Vienna).

Over the last few years, the battleground has moved to the cloud and the main contestants remain Microsoft (with Office 365) and Google (with Google Apps).

In 2004  the UK government published a quite balanced policy, where it required to consider open source alternatives, but to choose them only if they were delivering better value for money. Other countries, such as Brazil or some parts of Europe, have continued pursuing positive discrimination, mandating the ues of open source wherever possible. A few years later, in 2008, the UK government issues a new policy that was more in favor of open source ( the link is not available at the original address the cabinet office site, but here is my research note published at the time). This third step looks even more aggressive, although I have not yet seen the details of the new policy.

As they strive to look for more savings, governments around the world rightly look at how to use the procurement lever to reduce their cost base, cut unnecessary spending and squeeze more efficiency from their relationships with technology suppliers. Alternative sourcing models, including cloud, open source, crowdsourcing and new forms of partnerships will become increasingly popular. On the downside though they will require different and new skills in the public sector: dealing with multiple short-term cloud-like contracts with smaller vendors, managing interoperability and integration across a broader variety of services and products, gaining the necessary expertise about and involvement in selected open source communities, while pushing for agile development methods and continuous innovation in a traditionally risk-averse environment can be a daunting challenge.

 

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Category: Europe and IT open source in government     Tags:

Open Data Can and Will Shift the Power Balance

by Andrea Di Maio  |  January 21, 2014  |  3 Comments

The recent case of two students at Yale, who used university data to build a web site that allowed students to plan their schedules while comparing class evaluations and teacher ratings for the past three semesters. shows that unintended uses of data can have a profound impact on organizations, both in the private and in public sector. In this particular case it does not look like the University made course data available as open data, and there was some data scraping work that the students’ application had to perform to provide the intended functionalities.

However the growing availability of open data as well as the ability of people to exchange their own data via social networks is definitely challenging whomever owns and provides data for specific constituencies.

The challenge is two-fold. On the one hand different ways of presenting, combining and analyzing open data lead to new customer attitudes, different expectations and behavioral patterns as well as reputation shifts that can be difficult to intercept and influence. On the other hand, customers and other stakeholders post and share data about their own views and experiences with their service providers: customer reviews on web sites as well as customer comments on social media are already a well know major influencer of customer behavior.

However, while commercial enterprises are more used to deal with this form of competition, government organizations and other  public sector institutions are having a harder time. There is an assumption that they hold trusted information and that they are the single source of truth when it comes to the data they own and administer. Unfortunately trust is shifting from established organizations to people. While this is happening at different pace in different jurisdictions – mostly related to how much citizens trust their current government as well as government-owned or funded academic institutions and school districts – it is a fact that nit is happening everywhere.

The irony is that most governments are embarking in open data policies and strategies, based on the assumption that data will contribute to economic development in their region. This will certainly happen in the long run, but before that public sector organizations will have to bear the cost of providing open data and of dealing with their unplanned or unintended use, which can and will challenges established policies and processes. It is probably time for not only opening date, but also being open about how to deal with the inevitable change that the use of open data will drive: yet another reason why open government should not be perceived – as it is now – as a separate initiative, but should become the normal course of business, entrenched in everything governments do.

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Category: open government data     Tags: , ,

The Eight Key Issues of Digital Government

by Andrea Di Maio  |  January 15, 2014  |  3 Comments

I have not being blogging for quite some time, but a lot has happened in Gartner government research over the last few months. Perhaps the most remarkable achievement has been the redesign of our research agenda to align with the digital government priorities that many of our clients are dealing or are about to deal with.

There is no doubt that there is still a fair amount of confusion in the marketplace about what constitutes digital. While I received some pointed criticism when I said that there is a risk that digital government looks pretty much like e-government, client conversations over the last few months clearly show that there is no single definition of what digital means and that the risk of turning it into more of the same is clear and present to several people.

Now, to set the record straight, I do believe digital government is profoundly different from e-government as well as from government 2.0 (although in some jurisdictions the latter terms still looks more relevant than “digital”). Whereas there are many differences as far as technologies and what they make possible,political will, and evolving citizen demand, my contention is that the single most fundamental difference is in the relevance of data and how new and unforeseen uses of data can truly transform the way governments deliver their services and perform their operations.

This is not at all just about government as a platform or open government, where government is primarily a provider of data that constituents – be they citizens, business or intermediaries – use and mash up in new ways. It is also about government themselves inventing new ways to user their own as well as constituents’ data. It is only by striking the right balance between being a data provider and being a data broker and consumer that governments will find the right path to being truly digital.

During the Gartner Symposia I attended last fall, I had numerous interesting conversations with people who are exploring very innovative ways of using its own data, such as:

  • tax authorities contemplating to use up-to-date financial information about taxpayers to proactively suggest investments that may provide tax breaks,
  • education institutions leveraging data about student location from their original purpose (giving parents information about students’ whereabouts) to providing new tools for teachers to understand behavioral patterns and relate those to more personalized learning
  • immigration authorities leveraging data coming from video analysis, whose role is to flag suspicious immigrants for secondary inspection, to inform public safety authorities or the hospitality sector about specific issues and opportunities with tourists.

In the second half of 2013, Gartner government analysts focused on distilling the fundamental components of a digital government initiative, in order to be able to shape our research and advice in ways that hit the most important issues that client face. The new government research agenda has just been published (see Agenda Overview for Government, 2014) and eight key issues, grouped in three distinct areas,  that need to be addressed to successfully transform into a digital government organization.

Engaging Citizens

  • Service Delivery Innovation: How will governments use technology to support innovative services that produce better results for society?
  • Open Government: How will governments create and sustain a digital ecosystem that citizens can trust and want to participate in?

Connecting Agencies

  • New Digital Business Models: What data-driven business models will emerge to meet the growing needs for adequate and sustainable public services?
  • Joint Governance: How will governance coordinate IT and service decisions across independent public and private organizations?
  • Scalable Interoperability: How much interoperability is needed to support connected government services and at what cost?

Resourcing Government

  • Workforce Innovation: How will the IT organization and role transform to support government workforce innovation?
  • Adaptive Sourcing: How will government IT organizations expand their sourcing strategies to take advantage of competitive cloud-based and consumer-grade solutions?
  • Sustainable Financing: How will government IT organizations obtain and manage the financial resources required to connect government and engage citizens?

This agenda is meant to both answer immediate questions about whether and how to deploy cloud solutions, how to deal with mobile service delivery, how to better leverage data, how to make shared services more successful, and so forth. But it also aims at looking beyond the obvious, at challenging the common wisdom, at warning our clients about jumping into the future without absorbing the lessons from the past. As usual, our research will reassure clients in certain areas and challenge them in others. We do not write research to please but to help.

I wholeheartedly hope that our effort will help the government community – both technology users and providers – find effective ways to advance the digital agenda, optimize the use of limited financial resources and skills, and set the pace for a transformation where digital becomes business as usual and second nature to government business leaders, IT executives and ultimately every single civil servant.

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A Sad Event Shows the Bright Side of the Web

by Andrea Di Maio  |  October 15, 2013  |  Comments Off

Two nights ago one of the most esteemed Italian Internet experts and pioneers, Marco Zamperini, passed away. With a long career as a CTO and Chief Innovation Officer in technology companies and academa, he was one of the seminal figures that carried on the Web innovation in his country. I never had the chance of meeting or working with him, but I was touched by the number of heartfelt eulogies that filled most social media yesterday, remembering Marco. He was clearly a very nice person well beyond his professional history and charisma. Most people described him as always smiling, witty, and capable of finding something good also in the least favorable situations.

The use of social media in Italy is often confrontational: people challenge each other on pretty much anything, from political views to football, from digital agendas to fashion. It is difficult to find value at the bottom of zillions of conversations whose sole purpose seems to be for somebody to prevail on somebody else in a heated discussion. Yesterday the web was different. Those same people who fill social media with controversy were mourning Marco. It felt like a choir, with different voices offering their memories, creating an unusual sense of warmth that I had never experienced before.

Somebody observed that although Marco was often surrounded by rather controversial individuals, he was always able to find something good in them, something to learn and enrich himself. This was certainly one if his greatest gifts when he was alive.

But today maybe he left us with his greatest gift. Thousands of people stopped quarreling and shouting on the web and spoke with a single voice to remember him. In Italy, something close to a miracle.

Goodbye Marco.

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It Is Time To Pull The Plug on EU-Funded IT Research

by Andrea Di Maio  |  October 11, 2013  |  2 Comments

Almost 28 years ago, when I officially entered the IT workforce, I found myself working on a research and development project about the use of the Ada programming language (does anybody remember it?) in distributed computing settings. The project was funded under the Multi Annual Program that the the European Commission had instituted to provide financial support to the cooperation of industries, research institutions and universities from different European countries. This program morphed into ESPRIT, which was the IT arm of the First Framework Program for Research and Technology Development. We are now close to the end of the Seventh Framework Program, and the next one (renamed Horizon 2020) is about to start.

These huge programs cover a number of areas of science and technology, ICT being only one. Also, they provide a variety of types of projects or funding schemes, depending on how upstream or downstream the research and development is. Of course the basic principle behind these programs remains that research must be of a pre-competitive nature, to prevent any government intervention in how markets operate. At times, EU-funded projects have come very close to this boundary, or have overlapped with neighboring programs to establish cooperation among countries or industries on common actions and standards.

What strikes me about these mechanisms is that they have not changed in almost 30 years. But  if we look at the face of the IT industry, especially in Europe, it has radically changed. There are no longer the huge hardware manufacturers that tended to dominate those programs in the early days, and also the software and services market is fundamentally different.  Consumer technology has become increasingly important, and that’s a market dominated by non-European players. Infrastructure and quasi-commodity applications are increasingly available via cloud, and also here the key players are non-European, Innovation in application development and data usage has emerged with very different mechanisms, such as crowsourcing, crowdfunding, hackatons, application contests and so forth.  Many of the small-and-medium sized technology companies that thrived in many of these projects have either disappeared, or have been acquired, or have become something very different.

Four years ago, in the early days of the 7th Framework Program, I said  that the program needed fundamental changes to have the expected impact. I am not sure much has changed though, and in light of how different the IT landscape is today, I would argue that maybe these vast resources should be used differently. Millions of euros – this is the average size of a project – could be better used to improve health and education, to train people who have lost their job, to subsidize young people’s first employment, to provide support to those who are knocking at the EU’s doors in search of better living conditions. Or, if we want to stay in the realm of technology reserach, let’s bet on paradigm-shifting, more upstream research.

I wonder why those who have such a strong faith in the power of digital technology of creating wealth and jobs do also keep asking for financial support from government organizations: digital agendas are often considered more a budget item than a coherent series of policies, and those believers are usually much more vocal when budgets are downsized or programs delayed than when other policy measures get passed or otherwise.

I seriously doubt that Europe will strengthen its competitiveness by using schemes that are just modest variations of a great idea that was conceived over 30 years ago. Mechanisms such as competitions and outcome-based rewards should replace the pay-upfront or pay-as-you-go schemes that some enterprises have become so good at managing that they have turned them into profits rather than contribution to expenses. Let’s all the digital experts put their money (and not ours) where their mouth is.

 

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Category: Europe and IT     Tags: ,

Tempering the Enthusiasm About a Digital Economy: A Counterpoint

by Andrea Di Maio  |  October 8, 2013  |  4 Comments

The convergence of consumer, enterprise and operational technologies; the pervasiveness of connected devices among people and objects; the confluence of mobile, cloud, social and big data; emerging digital strategies in major corporation and governments. All these signals and trends  justify the strongly held belief that the digital economy era we are entering in will be a period of unprecedented change and limitless opportunities, where entire industries will be transformed, their boundaries will be blurred, new jobs will be created and the economy will return to grow fueled by digital information.

The technology industry for one is an early witness of the level of change that is coming. During his opening keynote at the Gartner US Symposium in Orlando, Peter Sondergaard highlighted how some of the key players and technologies in today’s’ market were not even on the radar screen a few years ago, and reminded that enterprise in all industry may find themselves facing competitors that are simply unimaginable today.

Government organizations, consulting firms, university professors forecast trillions of dollars coming from the digital economy, and this is creating huge expectations in economies that are either just coming back to growth or still struggling with flat or receding GDPs. Most likely their predictions will ultimately come true, but I am not entirely sure many have reflected about at what cost.

Jobs will certainly be created, but how many  will be destroyed? Massive automation of manual as well as increasingly knowledge-intensive tasks on an unprecedented scale, from truck drivers to police officers, from bank tellers to workers in publishing companies, from workers in the entertainment in industry to travel agent, from consultants to teachers, will create inevitable social tensions even in the most stable societies and best developed economies. The effectiveness of existing welfare and lifelong learning mechanisms will be questioned by the sheer number of people who will not have the right skills for new jobs and by the simple truth that computers will be replacing humans at a pace and on a scale that only science fiction work had originally suggested.

Similarly to how accelerated  technology evolution makes today’s technology legacy in a matter of a few years, so entire generations of workers, experts, skilled people will find themselves in urgent need of changing their skill set and reinventing their career path. In the last couple of decades we have seen disruptions to economies and specific jobs coming from globalization and the rising economies in the East and the South of the world, where lower costs and greater scale have proven unbeatable for many traditional jobs. No wonder that automotive workers in the US or tile producers in Italy or toy manufacturers in the UK have seen their jobs taken away. While entire jurisdictions still struggle with how to compensate for these losses and have invested on new programs to stimulate local entrepreneurship, it is quite possible that the skills that are being developed are either already dated or will be so soon. The accelerated pace of change driven by the digitalization of all industries may send shock waves through high-unemployment regions, leading some of their welfare safety nets beyond the breaking point. New generations of students that have applied for schools and faculties that were expected to give them better chances to find a job may struggle even before getting the degree they have been working for.

At the same time, new opportunities will arise, but in ways and in places that we cannot anticipate. Whether seed money or other positive actions that many governments are taking to encourage startups will have any impact is hard to say. Whether new school curricula aimed at earlier, hands-on experience will give young people a better chance to succeed remains to be seen.

However, if we accept that there will be uncertainty, if we accept that the actual shape of the digital economy is hard to predict, then the only skill that really matters is our ability to embrace change. But, oddly enough, this may call for different measures than those we see today. As far as education, is it really more important to have an early experience in an industry that is about to disappear, or should our kids actually spend time studying more theoretical subjects, even philosophy, ancient Latin or basic maths, to be better thinkers rather than quicker doers? As far as government subsidies, should they be directed at sustaining defunct industries or should they help accelerate their death and even preempt their economies from depending too much from those? As far as welfare or health care, should individuals be more rewarded for how much their employer pays for them or for how much they individually contribute to their economy and society?

I appreciate these are fundamental questions that do not ask for a mundane answer, nor am I qualified to suggest any solution. The purpose of this post is just to help reflect on what “digutal transformation” may actually imply. We tend to look at the half (or even three-quarter) full glass of digitalization, but we may be denying that it will take our economies, our societies, our families and ourselves in places that are more difficult to predict and tougher to live in than we actually think.

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Category: Gartner events     Tags: ,

Spain and Portugal Have Two Down-To-Earth, No-Nonsense Professionals Leading Government IT

by Andrea Di Maio  |  October 1, 2013  |  2 Comments

A few weeks ago I was in Madrid, discussing about the consolidation and cost containment program that the national government has in place, not unlike those in other European countries. As soon as I landed, I went to a lovely dinner with the then-CIO of the tax agency, Domingo Molina. The Spanish Tax Agency has been historically quite advanced in the use of IT and they were among the first to launch an on-line tax filing service. Little wonder that now that Spain is looking for somebody to take the rein of government IT across the country, the choice has fallen on Domingo Molina himself. During dinner I was favorably impressed by his ability to listen, his very concrete views about the challenges ahead and a tendency not to brag about himself, something that other people in such positions tend to do. As  the Spain-wide CIO had not yet appointed, I asked whether he would consider that, and he gave me a diplomatic answer confirming he was happy with his current job. What I told him makes me smile now: I suggested to stay where he was, as the whole-of-government job  is tough and sometimes short-tenured, especially when the exact boundaries of his authority are not clear. However Domingo struck me as a person who would not give up on a challenge, so I am pretty confident he is a very good choice for the country.

The evening after I had dinner in Lisbon with Paulo Neves, the President of AMA, an organization that is responsible for overseeing IT in the public administration. He was appointed over a year ago, coming from the private sector, and has been put in charge of implementing a 25-point program for cost containment (Council of Ministers Resolution n.º 12/2012 – Global Strategic Plan to Rationalize and Decrease ICT Costs in Public Administration), which is quite tough and urgent. Paulo too is a person who accepts to be challenged, who listens and ponders before explaining his strategy and tactics. While he has been given significant powers in vetting IT spending across the whole government, he has taken more of an advisory approach, to help different departments better understand and articulate their priorities.

Both these professionals, with significant careers respectively in the public and the private sector, have raised to a major challenge. It is quite clear to me that they are driven by a genuine desire to do the right thing and help their respective countries at a difficult time. There is little political consideration or careful planning of their next step, but the willingness to make a difference.

I wish them both the best in their important and challenging endeavors.

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