A few days ago a very interesting conference organized by ISTAT (the Italian National Statistics Institute) was held in Ancona on “Official statistical information on maritime transport between integration and innovation“, which was attended by almost all of the Italian Port Network Authorities.
What emerged was the great lack of homogeneous action on the methods of data collection and management. Above all, it was evident how difficult it is today for ISTAT to find a way to make a synthesis, without having a single contact point to refer to in the sector.
In the fragmentation of competences that has characterised administrative action in ports for decades, it is not clear who holds the real data on traffic movements i.e. the Harbour Authority, the Customs Agency, the Port Network Authority or, last but not least, shipping agents and the port operators, who certainly, due to their daily operations, are well aware of the traffic that passes through ports?
This is just one example (but many more could be made) of how the lack of a unified approach at national level in managing processes affecting the port and logistics sector creates diseconomies on a daily basis.
For reasons that would be interesting to explore in detail, the strategy used in recent years has not produced any results, except that of draining tens and tens of millions of public investments to finance initiatives, such as those of the creation of the National Logistics Platform, which have only produced prototypes and studies without any real operational effect.
At the same time, many Port Network Authorities have been forced to continue to invest resources to support the development of their traffic, doing so without any coordination and succeeding, in some cases, in creating valuable ITS systems commonly called Port Community Systems, which have simplified many procedures and supported the action of private operators as well as their own administrations.
I believe that the time has come to put the sector in order, not only because the overall results are absolutely unsatisfactory, but, above all, because there is a risk of not allowing the growth of a modern Italian logistics industry that is fully integrated with the European and global logistics industry.
Let’s be clear, the problem does not only regard the Port Network Authorities but the whole Italian Public Administration. It is no coincidence that the European Commission’s data on economic and social digitization (DESI 2018-Digital Economy and Society Index) rank Italy 25th out of 28, above Bulgaria, Greece and Romania.
This is one of the reasons why , the most recent national governments – with an unusual but absolutely appreciable continuity – have set up structures under the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, such as AgID (Agency for Digital Italy) and the Digital Transformation Team , which have begun to coordinate the implementation of the Italian Digital Agenda, ensuring a unified vision and effective action for the development of advanced digital services for the benefit of citizens and businesses.
The change of pace has been remarkable, but there is still much to be done, especially since the potential of the strategy designed within the context of tools such as the Code for Digital Administration and the Three-Year Plan for Information Technology in Public Administration has not been fully understood to date.
Finally, there is a clear framework for action within which to move and tools have been identified, as well as some already made available, which can allow the effective creation of a single national digital society in which citizens and businesses can easily use modern information technologies to simplify their daily activities.
The priority given to the principle of ‘digital first’ (through the design and implementation of public services, starting with the use of digital technologies); the adoption of an architectural approach based on the separation of back end and front end levels (with open logic and public standards that ensure accessibility to other actors and maximum interoperability of data and services); and the creation of multi-layer architectures that favour the business model of the so-called API economy (Application Programming Interface Economy), are just some of the key elements of the strategic model for developing the information system defined by the Public Administration.
At the moment, the government is focusing mainly on the creation of services for the benefit of digital citizenship, but there are already all the conditions for similar interventions in productive sectors such as transport and logistics.
What we need to do is to set up a transport and logistics ecosystem and develop a single area of intervention, distinguishing between the various application domains and involving public bodies and institutions, initially with the respective Ministries, but also all those private entities that operate in the sector and that in various ways perform important functions within the ecosystem itself.
Only in this way will it be possible to define common objectives once and for all, sharing needs, operating methods, information flow exchange processes and, above all, planning the creation of integrated ICT projects that produce advanced and efficient services for businesses and citizens.
If it is true that the development of an efficient logistics system is an essential condition for encouraging the economic growth of regional areas, it is also true that the creation of this digital ecosystem should be a priority for the national system, all the more so today, when various initiatives are being developed for the definition of transcontinental logistics corridors, such as that of the Silk Road, which directly affect us.
Within this framework, it would finally be possible to develop ITS systems for advanced efficient ports. In pursuing such an objective, the Port Network Authorities will certainly be able to count on the support of AgID and on the specific skills of its current Director, Teresa Alvaro, who in her previous experience as head of technology at the Customs Agency managed to lead an incredible process of digital transformation of customs procedures that has made Italy a worldwide example and best practice to follow at European level.
It is therefore essential to abandon the digitization strategies of the Italian logistics chain launched in recent years (which have shown not to produce any benefits, leading to the fragmentation of systems rather than their unification).
The aforementioned Three Year Computerization Plan of the Public Administration contains all the tools for proceeding immediately and it is a good idea for everyone to become aware of it and make it their own reference model.
However, for the overall result to be optimal, it is necessary that everything takes place within a single framework, designed at the highest possible level, where there is real interoperability between all transport modes and where the conditions are set up for an effective reengineering of all related administrative processes.
This is the only weapon we have to achieve the much waved, but never actually implemented, administrative simplification.
Without it, any process of economic growth risks remaining a mere illusion.
Translation by Giles Foster