SOCIETY | Jun 20, 2019

DESI 2019: lights and shadows of the digital world in Italy

Italy is in difficulty in terms of digital skills and use of the Internet according to the Digital Economy and Society Index. Digital services and open data are fine

Twenty-fourth, one step ahead of Poland, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria. For the third year in a row, Italy is fourth to last in the Digital Economy and Society Index, DESI 2019, a tool through which the European Commission has been monitoring the digital competitiveness of Member States since 2015.

Digital services, open data and connectivity

Like in DESI 2018, the Italian situation is saved by digital public services, where Italy ranks 18th, and by open data, where it ranks fourth in Europe. Despite the low level of online interaction between the PA and citizens, with only 37% of users opting for online forms, good results are reported for the digital health services where Italy ranks eighth in the EU, with 24% of citizens having benefited from health services and care provided online and 32% of general practitioners who regularly use the e-prescription service.

The connectivity situation is also good: we are in 19th place, recovering seven positions compared with last year’s ranking. The coverage of fixed broadband (99.5%) and of fast broadband (NGA) networks has increased and now reaches 90% of households, exceeding the EU average of 83%. However, the figures in terms of ultra-fast broadband (100 Mbps and more) are not comforting, as Italy, 27th in this case, provides a 24% coverage compared with an EU figure of 60%.

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Digital world and citizens

3 out of 10 people do not use Internet regularly, 19% of citizens, i.e. almost twice the EU average, has never used Internet and more than 50% of the population does not have basic digital skills. Italy is in 26th place for digital skills: a situation which refers to ICT graduates, equal to 1% of the total number of young people who finish university, well below the European average. After all, the OECD had also clearly dismissed Italy in its report  Skill Outlook 2019, by defining it “unprepared to face the challenges of digitization” and including it in the group “with the biggest digital divide” together with only Greece and Poland. “Only 36% of Italians, the lowest percentage among OECD countries, is capable of using Internet in a complex and diversified way”, the OECD report states.

Still according to OECD, 3 out of 4 teachers are not ready for the digital challenge and according to DESI, only 20% has carried out digital literacy training courses, to the extent that the DESI report highlights how “the National Plan for Digital Education, launched in 2015, has so far produced rather modest results”.

Digital world and Business

When it comes to companies integrating digital technologies, Italy ranks 23rd, as in last year’s DESI, well below the EU average. Progress has been made in the use of cloud and in e-commerce, although only 10% of SMEs sells online (well below the EU average of 17%).

This is the recommendation given in the DESI report: “In order to strengthen the digital transformation of the Italian economy, it is important to raise awareness of the importance of digitization in SMEs. Refocusing some incentives on SMEs is a step in the right direction, but further systemic efforts are needed in order to raise their level of digitization to that of the main competitors of Italian companies”.