PEOPLE | Nov 24, 2016

Alessandro Micheli: development of the country takes place through data, and through our ability to use them

micheli44 years old, Roman: the air of someone who knows what he wants, the decisive approach of someone who know how to get it and the humility of someone used to getting down to it himself. In a few words, this is the portrait of Alessandro Micheli, President of Confcommercio’s Young Entrepreneurs Group and adviser responsible for innovation and new forms of enterprise.

Youth, innovation and new forms of enterprise: central themes for the country which – not surprisingly – converge towards a single figure who has the delicate task of guiding the efforts of the main association representing Italian companies on a particularly complex terrain made up of opportunities which – if not seized – risk becoming threats.

The ninth edition of the annual forum of Confcommercio’s young entrepreneurs which closed recently was entirely devoted to the themes of the Sharing Economy and Industry 4.0: does digital deserve so much attention?

At this time, discussion of these themes is a real categorical imperative: it is not so much the fact that digital merits attention, but the fact that the entire economy is moving in a scenario of integration for which information technology brings with it a set of tools that cannot be done without. Too often we make the mistake of considering digital as something other than our everyday reality, when we should be thinking in a perspective of integration. Sometimes I think that the day when the digital age has really made inroads into our society, culture and economy will be the day we stop talking about it because we will – finally – be thinking in a natively digital way.

Thinking in a “natively digital” way: are Italian companies able to do so?

It’s not about being or not being able. Our entrepreneurs certainly are; the real problem is to get companies to that sufficient level of knowledge that makes them realise that they have to do so. Too often, in fact, awareness of the opportunities brought by digital is lacking, and even more so of the problems incurred by not seizing them. It lacks a system of widespread skills, in businesses as in PAs, is also lacking. And there is a lack of infrastructure. In short, our companies can benefit greatly from digital, but they need a shared culture and incisive system actions. Over the years I have seen the awareness of young entrepreneurs increase exponentially: support and assistance are now needed for acting on the acquired awareness and transforming it into projects and lines of action.

Does the Industry 4.0 plan go in this direction?

The Industry 4.0 plan – which, to be honest, still requires a fully articulated structure – is a starting point. But we must never forget that Italy is not a country with a typically industrial vocation: it is therefore of fundamental importance that the concept of Industry 4.0 is defined as a model of development, also and above all, for supporting small and medium enterprises which, through digital, can gain market competitiveness.

For example?

In the first place, by supporting – as I have already said – the development of a widespread use of digital, and then acting so that companies operating in trade, tourism, transport and catering understand how best to exploit those same operators which are often experienced mainly as a threat today. We must not forget that all the operators reshaping our world are working on data, and these data are nothing other than those arising from the user’s knowledge. But the user is actually, also and above all, a customer of our companies. It is thus not possible that the business model of those that some call the “network bosses” should function only by creating value for them. The model of value creation must be shared and produce well-being also on the ground, because the data are derived from actual transactions, from purchases, from choices that are anything but virtual, and obviously involve companies. A sustainable system can only be developed this way.

If Booking.com rents a hotel room it does so by managing data and information about the customer, but the room must exist and be in good condition. If Tripadvisor suggests one restaurant rather than another, wanting to leave the reliability of some of the reviews and their real value out of this conversation, it does so by managing information from thousands of transactions, but ultimately the two restaurants must really exist. This leads us to a general consideration: it is true that these players are specialised in data management, but even with all the Big Data available today, the service dimension evolves outside of platforms and sees our companies as protagonists. We cannot and must not forget this, otherwise we risk once again inverting the subject of the action (restaurant, taxi, hotel room) with the instrument for performing the action (the reservation management platform). But this means that Italian companies should understand how to interact with these players and how to exploit them to the fullest.

Does it also mean that Italian companies must acquire a real datum culture?

This step is critical. Today’s technology allows each company, even the smallest, to benefit from the products and services of Data Management which, until a few years ago, were only available to the major players. With current systems, even a small shop can advertise itself online with a level of complexity unthinkable until a few years ago: the user can be profiled, identified, reached with surgical precision.

Applications like geomarketing – which is based on GIS systems available in cloud mode – are no longer reserved for the great-size players, but also for a simple SME, which can derive great benefits. Until a few years ago, CRM required complex and costly installations; today there are CRMs in the cloud for use by any company. And the same goes for ERP or MRP systems.

In short, today in the system of skills of any business it is impossible to do without the set of skills inherent to the management of databases which, however easy they are to use, require a datum culture unknown until a few years ago. It is not enough to have software: it is necessary to ensure that this software is used correctly; which means most of the time doing so in such a way as to understand well which kind of data are being served up, and how to interpret their responses.

So, the datum culture as a key of development?

Absolutely yes: if it is true, as it is true, that we live in the information age, every one of us – from the large international players to the smallest companies – must understand that the success of the economy of this country depends on our ability to understand its characteristics. The characteristics of the user, the market, the product. And these characteristics are hidden and encoded in the ever-growing quantities of data that we manage about users: therefore, the ability to read these data is a key skill for being competitive in an increasingly tough market.