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Talks with: Guglielmo Sallustio, Partner, Friisberg & Partners Italy
Our company is part of the largest Italian digital transformation group and as the Covid-19 crisis began, all our employees entered into ‘smart working’ mode, which was already in operation for a few people.
Our initial priority was for the safety and health of our community, but then we focused our attention on giving continuity to our clients’ activities. We enable digital services to hundreds of municipalities and our non-stop support is often essential for citizens, local enterprises and public services.
This has been possible thanks to 24/7 infrastructure based on our Business Continuity “by design” model, and the 250,000 workplaces managed by our teams. But most of all, service processes were already based on remote delivery using shared service and competence centres.
A Smart city Can no longer simply be an idea for the future. It is a vision that must be implemented here and now -without delay.
This is what the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated, laying bare the dire need to digitize Italy’s Authorities and Municipalities, something which can no longer be put off. As has happened in other sectors, for example in the industrial world during Phase 1, only the cities whose Digital Transformation had already been under way before the emergency managed to withstand the shocks of a pandemic felt across the board – both by Public Administrations, which overnight had to adopt a Smart Working model that would allow their employees to work safely from home and to offer digital “counters” to guarantee essential services, and by citizens who were forced to use the internet to obtain services they once received by leaving their houses.
Most of the time, however, it actually meant running for cover, which should not be considered a goal, but a starting point. Because while it is true that technology has helped small and large municipalities to guarantee the provision of a wide range of services, from administrative to transport and waste management, during the next months it must become even more important that those that were previously considered emergency measures, must become structural reforms involving the entire urban fabric, from offices to museums. Technology must be transformed into process innovation with the reorganization of economic resources. This is how the transition from Smart City to Augmented City takes place, so that it becomes a city capable of guaranteeing all users equal access to services and therefore the right to fully experience the city itself.
I think that we are going to face an unprecedented situation over the coming months, even stranger and harder than the experience of full lockdown in Phase-1. The most likely scenario will be characterized by us learning to live with this virus.
Of course this will require rules governing social behaviour together with continuous health checks, but in order to pursue optimum business resilience, we must capitalise on all our technological capabilities and the new lifestyle that they allow. What we have in the past considered an extraordinary situation could became the “new normal”.
The key words for achieving a digital renaissance of cities, with people at the very centre, are simplification, innovation and data. New technologies such as The Cloud, AI, IoT and Cybersecurity must become the pillars for transforming urban contexts into digital ecosystems, where data becomes a fundamental tool for optimising and improving mobility, safety, welfare and waste collection. This must be done in such a way to ensure all these services also become resilient to crises such as the Covid emergency. The efficient use of data also means using platforms that share and integrate information from different sources. This is to optimise the provision of social, health and welfare services for example, to facilitate distance teaching, to optimise public lighting services or to ensure that museums and monuments are always accessible, albeit virtually.
All this, however, does not only mean grafting technology into an existing structure, it means rethinking the organisations and processes themselves. For public employees to work from home, it is not enough to provide them with a computer. They must be enabled (including through training) to use tools which make it possible to carry out, remotely, the same activities as in the office. Moreover, offering online services to citizens also means guaranteeing their privacy. Facilitating social relations means ensuring security and social distancing.
Processes cannot be reorganised without also reorganising the corresponding economic resources. For this very reason, private individuals should be considered valid stakeholders of the Public Administration, systematically using the tools offered by the Procurement Code such as Public-Private Partnerships and Project Finance.
I reject talk of optimism or pessimism. I think that we all have responsibilities to manage people and providing essential services must be rational and realistic, thinking in advance about solutions in terms of processes, technologies and possibly anticipating the next issues to help our communities be prepared and better face the future “new normal”.