A digital ecosystem to accelerate Italy’s innovation and growth | The European House - Ambrosetti

02 September 2022

A digital ecosystem to accelerate Italy’s innovation and growth

In Italy, there is still a significant gap, in comparison to the main EU countries, in the levels of digitisation. This gap is caused by a delay in developing digital skills, integrating digital tools in industrial sectors, developing a digital-related industrial policy and the key infrastructures that can enable a digital transformation.

In the research carried out in collaboration with Microsoft Italy, "Next Generation digITALY: how to promote the integration and development of a digital ecosystem to accelerate the innovation and growth of the country", presented on September 2, 2022 at the 48th Cernobbio Forum, we maintain that in order to promote the integration and the development of an advanced digital ecosystem, the Country must first take action in three areas:

1.  Increasing the digital human capital

2.  Developing a digital industrial policy

3.  Continue implementing the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP)

Digital human capital

More than half of Italian companies are experiencing difficulties in finding workers with adequate digital skills. Not only ICT specialists are missing, but also professionals with basic digital skills: it is estimated that Italy must train, by 2026, more than two million employees with basic digital skills to keep up with the needs of the market.

Despite the acceleration recorded during the Covid-19 pandemic, the growth of the number of people with digital skills in Italy is slow, with an average annual growth rate of 1.1% in the period 2015 - 2021. At this speed, reaching the target of 2.1 million workers would require 1.25 million adults with basic digital skills by 2026. The digital skills gap can be bridged through: formal education; on-the-job permanent professional training; enhancement of peripheral communities at high risk of exclusion.

Industrial policy for digitization

The Italian production system is based on micro-companies and small and medium-sized enterprises, which are characterized by low levels of digital adoption. It is therefore imperative for Italy to define industrial policy measures to spread digitization.

From another point of view, the average turnover of companies in the Italian ICT sector is also very low, both in absolute terms and in comparison with the main competitors of Italy within the EU. On average, an Italian company operating in the ICT sector generates a turnover of about 1.2 million euros, equal to 1/3 compared to Germany and is respectively 40% and 15% lower than in France and Spain. If these companies reached the average per capita turnover of German ICT companies, they could develop about 250 billion € of additional turnover per year, equal to about 14% of Italian GDP.

The urgent need to define an industrial policy for digitization is not only dictated by the state of fragmentation of the Italian ICT sector, but also by the difficulties that hinder the creation and growth of start-ups. Italy is in fact in the last positions at European level for its ability to attract venture capital resources to finance the development of the local innovation and startup ecosystem.

National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP)

Italian companies place great trust in NRRP as a key tool for the digitization of the country. The companies we interviewed give priority to the three pillars of digitization included in the Plan:

  • Large investments in digital infrastructure to equip businesses and citizens with fast Internet connections (ultra-broadband)
  • Renewal of Public Administration through the digitalization of services and the dematerialization of processes
  • Dissemination of digital skills at all levels: from digital citizenship to the skills required for the performance of work and professional activity

On the eve of the creation of a new Executive, the business world provides a strong indication to the new Government: to realise with speed, decisiveness and clarity of objectives the reform system designed by NRRP, in order to reach the modernisation targets that the Italian System absolutely needs in order to be able to compete effectively at European and international level.

Read the full Report “Next Generation digITALY: come promuovere l’integrazione e lo sviluppo di un ecosistema digitale per accelerare l’innovazione e la crescita del Paese” (in Italian)