Skip to main content

In past years, Italian companies demonstrated that they are timidly approaching the new marketing and communication tools offered by digital, seizing opportunities later if compared to foreign competitors. SMEs in particular, have allowed initial skepticism to prevail even in the face of smaller and clearly measurable investments compared to traditional channels.

At a later time, on the contrary, the opinion spread that digital could completely replace other solutions, a limping belief that does not take into account the effectiveness of the integrated approach, where online and offline coordinate synergistically to a 360° action to stably support every initiative.

Despite this brief bulimic moment, according to the 2019 ISTAT annual report, 80% of Italian companies, i.e. almost all of them, still have a low technological profile. Even in this case, the reasons are to be found in the lack of skills. Although the percentages of those employed in digital professions and the digital divide among employees within companies have improved, manufacturing companies still struggle to find the right skills on the job market. The number of people with high digital skills in Italy is lower than the European average (only in line with the software area) and is not sufficient to satisfy job demand.

In parallel with the survey on people with STEM and ICT skills, Istat has developed a line of investigation relating to the digitalization of businesses. Here the anomalies become even more evident: 80% of organizations are characterized by a low level of digitalization, 15.9% show the use of technologies mainly oriented toward the web and only 4.7% show a high profile of digitalization.

Even darker shades can be seen in the latest report from the European Commission relating to the digital economy and society index (DESI – Digital Economy and Society Index): here Italy ranks 25th out of 28 total, practically fourth to last together with Romania, Greece and Bulgaria. This happens in an EU context which instead shows the increased competitiveness of other countries thanks to the adoption of digital technologies, within which critical factors are connectivity, human capital that is adequately remunerated in terms of salaries, digital public services, the use of the internet, and digital technology in the business sector. The main gap is identified precisely in the lack of skills and, despite a slight improvement, the development policies proposed by the institutions still prove insufficient.

Notwithstanding a historic creative, industrial, and exporting vocation, Italy risks falling behind and missing the opportunities that digitalization can offer. To respond to the urgency of filling the competitiveness gap accumulated in recent decades, an Italian Digital Agenda (ADI) was created in 2012: a strategic document that follows the signing of the European Digital Agenda, defining the guidelines, methods, and intervention priorities to encourage SMEs in the digitalization and computerization process, which means connecting with the processes of the production chain, acting with reactivity and flexibility in the changing market context, demanding and unpredictable. The companies of most European states travel at a speed that is decidedly not sustainable for our companies, Italy tries to keep pace with the activation of initiatives such as the Enterprise 4.0 Plan, which focuses on the digitalisation of the PA as a premise for a acceleration of the digitalisation process of SMEs.

The National Industry 4.0 Plan in the country has undoubtedly triggered a virtuous circle and has managed to turn the spotlight on innovation issues, to bring digital into the Italian public debate, making it clear that this is not a topic for professionals, but a crucial issue, a lever that cuts across every sector and is fundamental for the growth of the economy. The plan, activated in 2016, has so far brought benefits, especially to large companies but now needs to move on to a second, more inclusive phase, which also allows access to smaller companies, preventing the gap from becoming irremediable. In this second phase, the contribution of universities, local associations, consultants, and politicians who raise awareness of a broader and deeper transformation will be vital. To date, Industry 4.0 investments have focused above all on the renewal of plants but the time has come to develop the technical-operational skills and managerial awareness necessary to exploit the enormous opportunity of digital at a macroeconomic level.

Various investments have been allocated, such as the National Fund for Innovation (FNI), included in the 2019 Budget Law, one billion euros for start-ups and innovative companies, furthermore in the next three years another 45 million euros are expected for artificial intelligence and the development of blockchain technologies, while Confindustria has aimed straight at skills, creating 18 digital innovation hubs which represent the main access point to Industry 4.0 for companies.

These centers are based on private partnerships between universities, research centers, and companies and allow SMEs to benefit from services aimed at the introduction of advanced digital technologies and to participate in the innovative ecosystem at regional, national, and European levels.

Italian companies can also make use of the resources made available by the giants of the digital world, such as Google which has agreed with Confindustria to offer training on digital skills, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. Support for the internationalization and online presence of companies will be the central aspects on which we will focus to encourage corporate digitalization, with the final objective of providing Italian companies with the tools necessary to fully grasp the potential of the digital aspect, decreasing and, in future, definitively eliminating the digital divide in our country.

In addition to Google, Facebook has also decided to invest in training among Italian companies, activating in 2019, together with Edi Confocommercio, the “Boost with Facebook” roadshow, a free program aimed at SMEs to promote their digitalization, helping them to grow their business and promote Made in Italy products on international markets. Free training programs and e-learning tools (such as Blueprint) are also available on the “Boost with Facebook” platform. Facebook has also launched the “Made by Italy, Loved by the World” site, designed to support SMEs in accessing foreign markets by boosting exports.

Change, to be effective and capable of exploiting existing opportunities, must start from within. First of all, entrepreneurs and managers must develop the conviction of the urgency of transformation, outlining a strategy to be implemented following a concrete and shared plan. No one is asked for a flight of fancy, but a journey made of small and stable steps, with the adoption of new tools that can be integrated and assimilated gradually, without interruptions, to proceed slowly but without stopping.

Festina lente, the Medici motto that accompanies the symbol of the turtle, fits perfectly with the Italian entrepreneurial fabric grappling with digitalization, an ancient reality, with a hard armor towards changes, but inexorable and capable of filling the gaps due to resistance to slow resilience.

Individual entrepreneurs cannot face this enormous, composite, and global challenge alone. The birth of innovative forms of aggregation of all kinds between small children can be a useful tool for speeding up times and facilitating processes.