“Italy is Europe’s 7th in ICT Patents!”

What e-content means in Italy:

A: Talking about digital content implies considering many other topics and issues as well. The overall view, according to me, shows a society undergoing evolution in basic content production structures and approaches, cutting through the traditional ways of production and consumption of information and knowledge.
What is the current status of e-content in your country, including national e-content development across all the sectors of the industry?

Digital Content is a varied and wide-reaching sector which includes publishing, software, web development, graphic design, computer games and broadcasting. It spans the whole range of companies which use the tools and functions of interactive media to bring new digital content products and services to market. The convergence of delivery platforms and the introduction of broadband technologies mean that there are many issues on the horizon for digital content producers to consider.

The new digital value chain is fragmented and is still defining itself. Content publishers are becoming aware of new digital distribution opportunities but want to enter gradually. Internet portals and e-tailors perceive digital products as an extension of their offerings; however, they don’t have access to high-value content and need to implement the technology infrastructure. End users will continue to experiment and demand better products at lower prices.

Content providers are concerned with copyright issues. The recent events in the online music industry with Napster and Freenet provide the most visible example of content providers facing copyright threats and problems to monetize the value of their products over the Internet.

An alternative value proposition to pirated content is the distribution of secured, copyrighted publications. The Internet provides an opportunity to create products which contain entertainment experience over and above the pure experience of listening to music or reading a book. As an example, music is being packaged with related content (video, lyrics, interviews, and relevant websites links). Services are tailored to the specific interests of users through the two-way flow of information that is characteristic of the Internet.

The way content providers are competing with Napster-like models is by offering new products with better user experience and reasonable prices.

New digital business models are emerging. Digital products allow content providers and distributors to create new and sophisticated models.

These new options represent a difference from physical content and users are viewing them as value-added products. Some of the new product offerings include piecemeal purchases (chapters vs. books, songs vs. albums), promotional offers (free samples, premium downloads), subscription models, super-distribution (users distributing to other users), the capture of personal data, and dynamic pricing.

Which e-content area is best developed in your country?

» Tourism and culture, Italy’s prime resources, have embarked on the road to digital innovation. The Government intends to create an electronic tourism and culture network for the country. For this reason, and as part of a series of initiatives aimed at promoting digital technological innovation, the Committee of Ministers for the Information Society has approved a proposal by the Minister for Cultural Heritage and Activities to capitalise on what has become known as Italy’s “oil” wealth through the creation of digital content for global networks. The programme’s strong points include the re-evaluation and promotion of the artistic and historical heritage of Rome as well as the creation of a national periodicals library. To carry out the first phase, the Committee of Ministers has approved funding of 3 million euros.

» Go-ahead for incentives for the Plan for Digital Innovation in Business, especially small enterprises, and funding for the local authority ‘Terrestrial Digital TV’ pilot project using television as a tool for the dissemination of e-government has been put into place. Following the Internet, home television is becoming an interactive tool for the development of e-government services for citizens and businesses. With regard to terrestrial digital TV, the Council has given the ‘green light’ to funding amounting to 10 million euros for a pilot project. According to the programme around half of the population will be covered by terrestrial digital TV by the end of the year. The project envisages the activation of multimedia applications as part of the e-government projects, not only through the Internet, but also through terrestrial digital TV. After installing a decoder and set-top box, it will be possible to carry out simple operations using home TV sets. In this way, it will be easier to provide families with online government services. While Internet access has grown considerably, only half of all Italians will have an Internet connection by 2005. 99% of houses, however, already have television. Terrestrial digital TV therefore becomes an additional interactive tool to the Internet for simple transactions with the public administration. In this way, the number of beneficiaries of the information society increases.

» University-level distance learning is another key factor to develop the information society as it is democratic, inclusive, economical and its students are by no means second-league. Recently the first online degrees in Italy (in IT engineering) were being awarded at the Politecnico di Milano. The programme includes strict criteria for the accreditation of courses including the same regulations as currently apply to traditional universities. Thanks to its unique characteristics, e-learning can reverse a situation where as much as a quarter of working Italians only possess a primary school certificate; just 42% of the population aged 25-64 has a high school diploma (the figures are 60%, and 84% respectively for France and Germany, and 60.37% in Europe as a whole), while in the last 40 years, out of 10 million matriculated university students, only 3 million have made it to graduation, and a considerable number of these are working students. Today, 85% of the 400 students enrolled in the Politecnico’s online courses are working students. The nature of university-level distance learning applies not only to working students but also to those who live in remote areas, those who risk being marginalized such as the disabled or housewives, or those experiencing economic difficulties. E-learning is also the tool to deliver educational programmes to Government Employees as a means of improving training provisions.

» Accessibility to new technologies for a society without exclusion is another key element of the Government’s Programme in the European year of People with Disabilities. Since technology is increasingly becoming a means of exchanging, storing and creating information, access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is a growing opportunity and basic right for all citizens, without exception. Over 3 million people in Italy (5% of the population) are significantly disabled in one way or another. In this light, it is important for the entire Public Administration to act as a benchmark in terms of accessibility. This is because government departments have more and more frequent, contacts with citizens than any other type of organization. Not forgetting that their Web activity has grown considerably, with public websites experiencing the highest increase in visitor numbers: a 15% year-on-year rise to last April, according to the Nielsen/ NetRatings survey. Indeed, the Public Administration now accounts for a 29% share of the Internet market. Statistics show that there are significant differences in access to ICT and the Internet. The most disadvantaged tend to have the lowest level of access to the Internet, while having the highest level of interaction with government. Italy is the ‘eldest’ country in Europe: taking into account this data many projects are being carried on to give aged people the opportunity of actively participating in content design and production. The information society has coincided with unprecedented efforts to improve administrative procedures and organization, allowing true citizen-centric, cooperative and polycentric modern governance. If implemented properly, it will help development, and consolidate principles of good governance such as democratization, coherence, effectiveness, transparency and accountability.

» Crime reporting is going to be modernized anddigitized. The more than three million paper-based crime reports which the police forward to the public prosecutor’s office each year will soon become electronic by applying digital technology to this sensitive area in the administration of justice.

Which sectors in your country are the leaders in e-content development?

Investments in the development of innovative e-solutions and digital content are supported both
from public and private sector.

Universities are investing to supply improved teaching and learning resources via digital media. Other institutions, such as museums, are developing large technical infrastructures, thus reflecting the higher knowledge content of contemporary goods and services. Public Administrations are also playing a key role in the process of modernization and personalization of government products and services.

Given this macro economic situation, many institutions have realized that they must put in place information policies, services and technologies with a firmer long-term economic strategy than might previously have been considered.

For all sectors, I feel that a significant effort is being done to go over the economic crises over the last two years after the failure of new economy promises. Future issues may include cost surveys and case studies to illuminate these issues. Evaluation tools remain a vital area of discovery because, to justify future expenditure, all organizations need to quantify the success of current activities.

Please describe the progress of e-content development in your country.

Digital content development depends on many factors, like the need of:

» Defining a rule context for Digital Rights Management;
» Developing a new management approach by promoting strategic thinking, experimentation and research, taking account of the cultural context and putting people first;
» Encouraging the development of applications and services of public interest;
» Improving the competitiveness of Italian industry;
» Improving Italian economic and social cohesion;
» Encouraging new activities leading to job creation;
» Fostering initiatives to promote access to information and its corresponding transformation into knowledge A breakthrough in co-operation is required: not only is joining up the branches and levels of Government a must, but also establishing co-operation between Governments at all levels, among professionals, users, the industry and academics.

Please list the major initiatives which have influenced and spurred the development of e-content in your country.

Some changes have taken place in Italian society. The huge and often inflexible bureaucratic structures of the past are gradually being replaced by reactive, responsive and open government structures which clearly put citizens at the centre of service delivery. Regarding Public Investments, there’s an unprecedented funding from Government and local authorities to promote e-government programs. The institutional architecture of the State is changing profoundly and becoming more federalist. In such a socio-politic context, the only way to avoid overlapping, contradictions and a waste of money in public policies is to promote a ‘cooperative federalism’ or ‘governance’ ensuring a constant co-ordination between all the layers of government. In this respect, ICT appears to be a key to success.

In Italy, the Government, Regions, Provinces, Municipalities and Mountain Communities (i.e. the 20 Regions, 103 Provinces, 360 Mountain Communities and 8,000 Municipalities of Italy) are now in perfect agreement and share a common vision of e-government which is based on the co-ordinated application of digital innovation for an efficient and orderly move to federalism. The biggest Italian ‘service provider’, i.e. the State, has decided to completely rationalize itself, transferring most of its decision-making and managerial processes from central to regional governments. The first phase of this process demonstrated the capability of the Regions, Provinces, Municipalities and Mountain Communities to introduce innovation in close collaboration with central Government, and also demonstrated the usefulness of local co-ordination among the Regions.

In the second phase of e-government seven courses of action are envisaged: the development of local infrastructure services the delivery of consumer and business services at a local level; the completion and mainstreaming of health and employment services; the inclusion of small municipalities (with less than 5 thousand inhabitants) in e-government; projects for the development of digital citizenship, e-democracy; the promotion of new services for citizens and businesses; and information and assistance for local authorities.

For the project to succeed, new organizational structures, institutional relations, and systemic approaches are needed. All these developments create a compelling need for developing visions and strategies which so far have been almost absent from the debate on e-government. Simple drafts about what technology can do are a superficial and insufficient ersatz for such strategies. Ambitious visions need to be adopted focused on socio-cultural transformations, to create true benefits for stakeholders, citizens and enterprises in the society at large.

What have been the major bottlenecks in the development of e-content in your country?

The literature is full of articles about digital projects, new technologies or methods, as well as research and user studies, but the economic aspects of managing digital content is proportionately under-represented. The effective utilization of resources is among the most important of management activities and in the context of digital content has several components: the immediate start-up costs of either creating or purchasing digital content and costs implicit in preserving, managing and maintaining a digital resource in the longer term.

An appropriate strategy to encourage digital content diffusion is related to the adoption of the Digital Rights Management standard, which is essential to creating and consolidating reliable Web-based network business models, and providing the market with essential assurances. In this sense Italy has to pursue regulations to ensure balanced competition, the use of structural funds for the development of strategic content fields, respect for privacy, consumer protection, accessibility for vulnerable categories, security, technological neutrality and use of the most suitable platforms.

To have access means having the possibility to do and use whatever anyone else can do or use, having the liberty to take advantage of existing resources. Unfortunately, the resources available in the interior of a computer programme or in a web site are not directly accessible. Typically, people use just a minor part of the whole range of possibilities that the software offers. Graphical interfaces have implied a quantum leap in simplifying and increasing accessibility by lowering the learning curve. Nevertheless, despite the unceasing search for new ways of visualisation, it appears that we lack a good direction in which to move. Information Visualisation is in an effervescent moment, but we are still moving blindly, with big difficulties in transmitting, in an easy and simple way, powerful mental models that could help in the conversion of data into knowledge. What differentiates knowledge from information is the complexity of the experiences that you need to reach it. Knowledge cannot be transferred from one person to another, it has to be built by people themselves. Going from information to knowledge and then to wisdom, is the responsibility of web content.

An appropriate strategy to encourage digital content with advances in medical care, better nutrition and improved living conditions. Today, Italians have a longer life expectancy. Citizens need to be informed and be knowledgeable about their own situation and thus be able to make additional provisions when necessary. With the population increasing in age, an even larger burden is placed on the services which support the health and well-being of citizens. This comes at a time when public services such as social care are being cut back to bring about reductions in costs. The reorganization of social security systems is necessary to provide more open and responsive services to citizens. The Government Departments which manage the social security systems require major process re-engineering, including back office integration and the implementation of portals through which new services can be accessed.

In developed countries ICT has become part of daily life and e-content development is primarily left to the initiatives of individuals or organizations. On the other hand, in less developed countries, the development of e-content is largely dependent on ICT infrastructure. Please give a detailed analysis of the situation in your country.

There are 112,000 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) companies in Italy, employing 710,000 people and generating 3.8% of GDP. Italy comes seventh in Europe in terms of the number of ICT patents, 62.5% of which are in the communications field and 10% in basic electronic circuits. Lombardy, Piedmont, and Lazio are the regions with the highest number of patents. Although these statistics are positive for Italy in absolute terms, they are less so when set against population size: Sweden and Finland, for example, registered 136 and 94 patents respectively per million inhabitants, France 24 and Italy 4.

Considering these figures, Italy appears a fertile ground for technological innovation. Indeed, our country takes second place in Europe, behind the United Kingdom, in terms of the number of companies involved in manufacturing and developing new information and communication technologies (with 112,608 ICT companies, while the United Kingdom leads with 160,717 companies). The Italian Government promotes policies to support the development of specific hi-tech sectors, to transfer technology from public research centres to companies and to make Italy more attractive to investors by presenting it as an environment which is conducive to research technological development and innovation. The challenge is to capitalise on these assets by fostering innovation in Italian digital content production and distribution. Regarding Government action, so far, the predominant notion has been the provision of services to identifiable customers enabling solutions from e-commerce to be ‘imported’ into the public sector. However, only to a minor extent can individual ‘customers’ be identified.

Moreover, modern governance is not just about delivering services. The notion includes democratic and cooperative policy formulation, citizen and civil society involvement, transparent and participative implementation of policies as well as continuous independent evaluation of results. However, these aspects are still terra incognita for the vast majority of e-solution providers. Nevertheless, even though Italian programmes started with a narrow conception of services, they have a huge potential to contribute to content management modernization.

How would you describe the ICT scenario in your country? Please describe it in terms of infrastructure, penetration, acceptance and policies.

Estimates of the number of Internet users are unreliable everywhere, and often exaggerated. In the case of Italy, reliable sources indicate that there are ten or eleven million people online, while ‘news’ in mainstream media (and some online reports) quote figures as high as 15 or 16 million, and sometimes even 18 or 23 (with no explanation of how they were estimated). In any case, there has been considerable growth in recent years (especially 1998-2000). Development in 2001-2003 has been slower, with some ups-and-downs in short periods, but nonetheless, fairly consistent over time. While total numbers are questionable, there is interesting information on demographics. Differences are decreasing. The Internet in Italy is not yet for ‘everyone’, but it is no longer restricted by area, income or educational level as it was four or five years ago. Criteria and figures vary, but trends are confirmed by a variety of studies. Different sources report a total of people using the Internet in Italy (more or less frequently) between 9 and 12 million. According to Eurisko, 8 million people were online ‘at least once in the last seven days’. For several years there was more use of the Internet from work than from home, but the trend changed in year 2000 with more growth of online activity at home.

There are still many people who have a personal computer but not an Internet connection, or have a connection but don’t use it. (‘Frequent’ use isn’t very often, it stands for ‘at least once a week’.) Several different sources confirm this situation. The gap narrowed slightly in previous years, but now it appears to be widening. Regarding geographical penetration, the situation has changed compared to three or four years ago, when Internet use was concentrated in the North-West. Differences are decreasing. Use from the office is more concentrated in the North, and home use growing everywhere. Considering age, there was a new influx of young people in 2000-2001. The traditionally strongest segment (aged 25-45) is now about half of the total (but larger in the case of ‘frequent users’ and of people online at work). Older people online have changed from almost zero to a very small percentage. Over time, it will increase with people now online getting older, but there are very few ‘new users’ over 60. The use of Internet is broader than it was also by education level and the percentage of women online continues to grow. Women are 41 percent of the people online in Italy, and they constituted 59 percent of ‘newcomers’ in 2002. Women online are somewhat better educated and younger than men. At the same time, broadband is growing at a rapid and satisfying rate. At the end of June 2004, there were over 1.7 million broadband connections: an increase of 62% since the beginning of the year. It is envisaged that there will be 2.5 million connections by the end of 2003 which is an increase of 130% in just 12 months. Since broadband is regarded by the Government as an essential condition for the country’s economic development, and since the demand for it is increasing, it is necessary, now more than ever, to enlarge investment in innovative content and services. The available information about people online confirms that there is a constant increase of Internet use in Italy and that it is faster, over time, than the European average. Italy is now one of the ten largest countries worldwide in the Internet though it is still far behind the United States and the high-density European countries. Some analysts think that the country may be close to a threshold, but that is unlikely. There is considerable room for further growth. The limitations are cultural, not technical. Italy has the highest density of cellular telephones in the world. That indicates that new technologies can grow quickly when they become popular. It does not mean that mobile Internet services are likely to bring more people online. Slower growth (especially in business) is due mainly to the enormous noise in mainstream media about the financial failures on the stock market and the diseases of the so-called new economy and to the disappointing results of many hasty, poorly conceived online projects. Probably about half of Italy’s population will be online sooner or later, but it’s hard to tell if that will happen in a few years or over a longer period. There are two key factors that could accelerate growth: one is a more widespread understanding of the real human values of the Internet while the other is a greater and better availability of online services that are really useful to people.

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