PEOPLE | Jan 26, 2017

INAIL: from e-government to digital government. Interview with Stefano Tomasini

It is necessary to evolve from management of information systems to government of digital organisation, increasingly focusing on data

PA data and services must grasp the objective, which is technologically within reach, of changing the lives of people, and in the future of PAs, for the better”.

This is one of the phrases used by Stefano Tomasini, head of the Central Directorate for Digital Organisation at INAIL, to define the role of technology in Public Administration.

Tomasini works with the business IT and telecommunications system, telematic relations and the development of technological tools for the re-engineering of production processes.

The theme of digital innovation is certainly not new to INAIL. The Institute’s digital strategy has been presented as a necessary element for supporting the process of transforming INAIL from e-government to digital government.  What are the cornerstones of the strategy? What objectives have been set and at what pace?

The ongoing process of change initiated by INAIL in 2012 is based on awareness that, in the medium and long term, the many organisational, operational and technological issues related to the operating model then in force in the Institute, based primarily on physical defence of the territory, would have made it unviable to continue pursuing the purpose and institutional mission of the Institute – namely, to ensure adequately meeting the needs and expectations of the various stakeholders with the required levels of service and quality.

The decision to undertake a major overhaul of INAIL’s operating model in a digital direction, enabling new channels and tools in step with the most modern information technologies (e.g. portals, apps, mobile phones) and limiting the services provided through physical channels only to territorial cases requiring proximity to the end user (e.g. health services, rehabilitation and care), has now become urgent. Not only in view of the progressive reduction of the Institute’s workforce, resulting in a difficult to replace loss of knowledge and expertise as well as the ability to maintain the volume of services provided by INAIL in the traditional way, but especially because of the fact that the demand for services is now evolving with record speed, requiring ever greater ease and speed of access to them, as well as higher levels of customisation and proactive approaches, while at the same time having to ensure tangible and continuous improvements at gradually decreasing costs.

In addition, compared with the past, the context of reference and modalities of interaction between public bodies and between public and private are also changing increasingly rapidly. Think, for example, of the Italian Digital Agenda projects – from the Public System for Digital Identity Management (SPID) to Pago PA and the National Resident Population Register (ANPR) projects – in which INAIL is heavily involved.

The cornerstone of the transformation strategy adopted is primarily the belief that digitisation of a complex entity such as INAIL inevitably passes through a comprehensive and organic preventive rethinking in this light (digital) of strategies, processes, organisation and support tools. Without this rethinking, the risk is that the end result will be mere computerisation of inefficiency. What is needed instead is to evolve from the management of information systems to the government of digital organisation.

As is known, INAIL’s main objectives are reducing the occurrence of accidents and occupational diseases, guaranteeing insurance coverage for workers involved in risky activities for the health and reintegrating the injured in employment. The Institute’s new digital strategies aim to ensure the comprehensive and integrated protection of the worker by orchestrating the ecosystem of parties involved (public and private) and providing the different parties with high-quality services in a user-centric logic using innovative methods and channels.

In order to implement the new strategic approach, it is necessary to proceed to a coherent revision of processes and organisation with a digital focus, starting from the support level (back end) and then extending the approach to the institutional level (front end). In doing so, a key element is the transition from management of documents and administrative procedures to management of data in an algorithmic logic. Many examples in the private sector – from Amazon to Google just to name the most striking – make the added value of this approach clear. The first step in this direction was to create a function dedicated to the proper management of INAIL’s information assets.

All this of course rests on the technological infrastructure which must be maintained and enhanced constantly, in line with the needs expressed by users, trying to eliminate and avoid unnecessary duplication.

The “human infrastructure” also needs constant attention and enhancement, taking care of the growth and updating of the digital skills of INAIL’s staff through targeted training and appropriate management policies. I repeat once again that this is not a theme to be confined only to ICT professionals but affects workers in all areas of the Institute’s activities.

Finally, it is worth recalling that a further enabling element of the Institute’s digital strategy is the use of the tools and support of a third party partner specialised in IT procurement, such as Consip S.p.A., with a view to adopting innovative ­and customised solutions based on the specific needs of the Institute and implementing long-term strategies aimed at limiting the lock-in with major vendors; however, this should be done in total harmony with the latest ANAC guidelines and, on the issues of vendor management and the rating of vendors, by “advance” implementation of the recent AgID indications on monitoring.

In recent weeks, through definition of the Digital Innovation Plan 2017-2019, we have been establishing the stages of the process that will carry the Institute towards its new digital set-up.

Among our major milestones, by 2018 we will end both implementation of the project for re-engineering the Institute’s back end processes and redesign of institutional processes, implementation of which at the procedural and application level is expected in 2019, consistent with the definition of new organisational set-ups in line with the re-engineered processes, starting from territorial situations.

On the Technology front, once migration of the Ferruzzi Data Center to the main site of the Regina Apostoli Sanctuary is completed in early 2017, several decommissioning projects will be launched for phases of legacy systems about to become obsolete; these are due to be completed over the course of the three-year period.  Innovative solutions for management of the second Data Center in active-active configuration will then be identified, and delivery of infrastructural services to other PAs will be started.

In the field of Information & Analytics, we will continue with the development of statistical and predictive logics for the prevention of fraud and operational anomalies, the production and expansion of Open Data already available in relation to the institutional framework, and the development of analyses and solutions in a big data logic.

In terms of Vendor Management, continuity will be given to evaluations of IT Vendor Rating & Feedback for the most important supplies and we will continue with study of the Risk component of the evaluation model.

In this framework of particularly challenging objectives and programmes, a specific focus will be placed on reducing IT operating costs and on human development..

Is the culture of the datum also the key to development in PAs? To what extent do you think the Italian PA is attentive to analysis of available data?

Data Management has been one of the major evolutionary drivers already defined as part of the 2014-2016 Plan. The centrality of data in the development of INAIL’s digitisation process has led to the definition of a strategic plan dedicated to Information & Analytics; its aim is to enhance INAIL’s information assets, in order to extract information and knowledge from the data to be made available to business functions for the benefit of “rapid and informed decisions”, optimally support business processes, and better orient investments. At the organisational level, this translates into the opportunity to be able to develop, within the framework of the audit function set for staff of the governing body, methodologies and data analysis designed to orient the relevant corporate functions towards improvement or redefinition of organisational processes. From another point of view, attention has been placed on the streamlining of databases by creating a dedicated office with responsibility for ensuring enhancement and use of the Institute’s information assets and promoting methods and tools for the government and dissemination of data.

Enhancement of the Institute’s information assets will develop further under the 2017-2019 Plan, through specific actions and projects such as the consolidation of data governance, integration of assets with external sources, redesign of the models and architecture of data, master data management, data quality, streamlining of storage environments, adaptation of data analysis tools, upgrading of open data and convergence of the multiple information dashboards present today in the Institute.

It is then planned to launch a comprehensive review of the management of business intelligence, through the selection and adoption of new platforms enabling the use of Big Data technologies, as well as proceed with the redesign of monitoring systems in a multidimensional logic.

In addition, in order to enable greater interoperability and ease of access for the public and private organisations concerned, additional application services have been and will be published according to open service mode (Api-Rest).

Finally, in addition to completion of the process towards a digital data-centric management system, the 2017-2019 Plan envisages a further training and organisational commitment addressing administrative and business structures, also aimed at better understanding of the potential offered by use of data made available in a structured way through data governance models and systems.

The new mode of information asset management must be strengthened with appropriate digital skills disseminated throughout the Institute’s structures.

There is still a cultural problem regarding the approach to knowledge and measurement that requires the overcoming of impromptu requests with systematic involvement of business structures.

The issue therefore becomes not only technical; rather, let me say that IT represents only one component, but cultural and collaborative insofar as we all have to contribute to the development of a common glossary and ontologies that are inter-connected.

How important are skills in the internal process of digital transformation?

People and their skills are a key factor for accompanying and managing the transformation of an organisation, and thus constitute one of the main points of reflection for making the Institute’s new digital model fully functional.

The digital transformation of the Institute has required a rethinking not only of the mode of delivery of services but also of organisation and processes, imposing the need to pay attention to the skills necessary so that the Institute’s staff are ready to support the change and consequent identification of consistent underlying training programmes to enable and facilitate the transition.

If, on the one hand, rethinking the Institute in a digital optic recognises a central role for IT (no longer as a cost centre but as a generator of value for the organisation), on the other it requires the involvement of all structures (not just those of IT), and at the same time a profound cultural change, in which the skills of all professions, including those in the administrative and business sectors, are involved in the process of renewal.

Also in the case of our Institute, the transformation process has made it essential to put together skills and cultures so far considered absolutely heterogeneous, such as technical skills with organisational skills, in order to undertake virtuous processes of innovation. It was necessary to learn to adopt a common language between IT and business, requiring all members of the Institute’s staff to strengthen their ability to plan and manage services with a digital focus.

Over the last three years, the Institute has initiated a training process, preceded by an assessment conducted by e-Competence Framework (e-CF) experts, which involved all the IT and administrative staff of the Central Directorate for Digital Organisation, aimed at strengthening skills in specialist areas and adapting behaviour to needs related to digitisation. Certainly, the risk became immediately clear – especially because of the cultural background of much of the staff present in the Directorate – that on the issue of skills an IT technology-based approach would tend to prevail, which is why particular attention was paid to combining IT skills with those that were purely organisational in nature. As a result, the training programmes adopted were aimed at, on the one hand, consolidating the skills of IT staff, enabling them to reconcile technology with issues of processes and organisation and, on the other, further qualifying figures with an organisational role for the development of digital services.

In parallel, work is being carried out with the entire population of the Institute, with the dual objective of aligning the basic digital skills of all employees and developing specific digital skills necessary for strengthening the dialogue between IT staff and business/administrative staff. In fact, in our process of renewal, it is essential that IT and business adopt the same language, thus strengthening the ability to plan efficient and integrated services to be delivered in digital format.