This is one of those posts where I need to stress again – although this is already written at the bottom of the blog page – that I am expressing an opinion that is absolutely personal, does not constitute a Gartner position and does not appear in any of our research notes.
A few days ago I had a conversation with somebody about topics that are of interest to central government organizations in Italy, with a view at organizing a possible session on such topics. He said that the so-called PEC (Italian acronym for Certified E-mail) is top-of-mind for many government departments and agencies .
In fact, according to a government decree, all enterprises should have one or more certified e-mail boxes for all correspondence with government to take place electronically: having a PEC box is a requirement to create a new enterprise, while existing ones have three years to adapt. The original plan for PEC is to become something that all citizens will have to use. The advantage of PEC is that it has the same legal validity as a registered letter with return receipt.
Here is how the dialogue with this person, which I will fictitiously call Mr.Smith, went:
Mr.Smith: Is this a topic where you could add value to participants?
Me: (pausing) As all government analysts at Gartner have a worldwide coverage of certain topics, we have to pick those that interest a sufficiently broad set of jurisdictions: PEC is really unique to Italy
Mr Smith: Does it mean that Italy is on the bleeding edge on this? Could you maybe refer to related best practices?
Me: Well, in all fairness the only thing I could say is that they may still be in time to find a way out and not implement it. Italy is not at the bleeding edge: this is just a bad idea.
Mr. Smith (embarassed): This is clearly something you can’t tell them! They need to go forward with it, it is a decree.
Me: Then maybe you should think about somebody else, I can’t really help and my duty as an analyst is to warn people when they are making a mistake, even if they don’t want to hear that.
Why do I think this is a bad idea? Well, first of all there has to be a reason why this is not being done pretty much anywhere else. Further, this has been going on for several years and is the sister story to identity and service smart cards, both not terribly successful in Italy.
But, most importantly, citizen expectations are going in different directions. The greater choice given by web 2.0, the emergence of personal health records and the use of federated identities ask for governments to step back from areas that the market can sort our by itself.
What sense does it make for an enterprise or an individual to have an email address to deal only with government? Of course the PEC’s supporters will insist that it can be used for plenty of other purposes. Let’s be serious: if you want to make sure that people use e-government services, you have to give them choice, you have to allow them to use what they are used to, and not mandate something else.
Also, the whole concept originates from looking at e-government as the electronic equivalent of processes and interactions as they were conducted offline. Shouldn’t e-government reinvent these, decrease the number of touch points and messages exchanged, and give people choice about the channel for interacting and transacting?
Last but not least, as it costs a significant amount of money, it would be great if the Italian government had the guts to do what the UK government is doing with the ID card.