Viewed 519 times | Published on 2019-10-20 | Updated on 2019-10-21 06:52:34
You probably read that recently the Italian Government proposed to use cashback as a motivation to "push" Italians to use less cash.
Well, while working for customers within the Italian banking and banking services industry from the late 1980s until the late 1990s (before relocating abroad for the first time), I remember being part of few "experiments"- both as a consultant and as a volunteer customer.
But before talking about the above, I would like to to discuss another couple of examples in social cultural change in Italy since the 1970s.
Two cases: smoking and privacy
Beware: if you ask my fellow Italians, behind any social change there aren't opportunities for business development (i.e. somebody smart enough to take on an opportunity), but an evil design to generate business for somebody.
So, I will make examples and let others share their related conspiracy theories (as I wrote often, do visit any large enough bookshop in Italy, and you will find at least one shelf focused on conspiracy theories, at best dressed up as social or political analysis).
In the 1970s, Italy introduced a law to ban smoke in most areas, a law that was happily ignored, and not just for the first three years, but for decades.
Why three years?
I know that I am repeating myself, but... in Italy, even before changes few decades ago that converted frankly laws into "frameworks" to be filled (and sometimes subverted) by "implementation" delegated to bureaucracies, we were used to legislative frenzy.
Or: issue a law. Adjust with another law. Adjust the adjustment with a law. And so on, and so forth, until there is more or less a consensus.
So, imagine the social (not just business, also personal) costs if you were to comply with each iteration...
As for smoking: only when, in the early 2000s, a much belated adjustment transferred the potential fine to both customers and owners of establishment condoning smoking where there should be no smoking I saw from the first day a full compliance- up to sending out customers who assumed that it would be yet another law that will be ignored.
The reason? We keep importing laws and regulations that assume that there is a shared interest in doing or not doing something, for that elusive "common good".
But we aren't that much attuned- "common good" is "tribal good" and "individual good".
So, it was funny to see that actually the enforcers sometimes were long-term customers, even faster the shopkeeper in reprimanding other customers.
The same happened with GDPR (see also a book and articles that I posted on this subject: https://robertolofaro.com/gdpr).
In Italy, the precursor to GDPR was conveyed by a local law that was quite strict (if applied), and contained already most of the elements that in other EU countries were considered "new due to GDPR".
We went up to requiring that financial reports contain an attachment describing how data were managed, security rules, and even who was assigned which role in data privacy.
Well, it started a cottage industry of copy-and-paste documents.
Interestingly, for all the discussions about the "fines" side of GDPR, months after it was enforced in 2018, even local authorities and government branches were still failing to comply.
I reported last year how I found quite hilarious that, at a "data centric future" conference, a representative of the privacy watchdog said that they were late in processing complaints, due to the new requirement of producing everything in both Italian and English, and lack of people with the required level of bilingual expertise.
Actually, even the Italian translation of GDPR has been pinpointed by local experts as having some "cultural misunderstandings".
I will let you imagine some of the comments from some of the business people attending- it sounded as if it was yet another "old style" Italian law due to EU regulations (e.g. consumer protection): weak enforcement implied that a compliance issue was seen as a risk management issue, notably immediate costs vs. potential risks.
And still recently (even this week) I saw many websites and mobile apps that violated even the most basic GDPR requirement, i.e. explicit consent, no pre-filled fields, simple request to remove completely the profile and any data associated, etc.
To summarize: in Italy (more than in other countries I lived in and worked between the late 1980s and early 2010s), it is still "no (individual, tribal) pain, no (social) gain".
As the "common good" is elusive, almost exoterical, while the costs associated are quite real, everything is often considered in terms of "risk of being caught", and therefore we have an excessive number of laws and regulations that associate behavior with financial penalties, while common sense (and civic duties) would be enough.
Liberalism Italian style
One of the "jingles" used long ago by Mr. Berlusconi was "vietato vietare" (forbidden to forbid), also if initially was really referring to his self-appointed freedom to broadcast using public airwaves nationally through various means (e.g. shipping around videotapes to be broadcasted at the same time, later replaced by direct broadcasting).
What he forgot is that, in the end, it was thank to few Government decrees that generated loopholes that he was able to have this "freedom".
Or: freedom by decree (some would add: "ad personam", at least initially).
Something closer to absolut monarchies than liberalism.
I still think that a right should be universal, not selective- otherwise is a grant, not a right.
We had other similar cases, resulting sometimes in convoluted laws that created a "level playing field", creating new markets that were immediately filled by those ready.
No, I am not going into the conspiracy side, in this case, simply looking at timelines.
If you ask to some Italians, they would probably say that simply it was a case that the State or local authorities or government-owned behemots (at a time, Italy had so many State-owned companies that they had their own industrialists' association)...
...were unable to perform, and therefore the private sector was asked to take-over to develop or maintain.
Other Italians would say instead that we had a post-Soviet-style "sale of the century" (see the Soviet case in Sale of the century), transferring assets at a fraction of their value to "happy few" (yes, a quote from Henry V's "St Crispin" speech).
I think instead that we had both cases- but, more often than not, our decision-makers were carried away by their urge to look "modern", and forgot to actually double check (or ask for a second opinion) with those who actually were within each company.
No, obviously in most cases did not even bother to ask the "stakeholders"- that would be too modern.
Involving stakeholders in Italy
As I was reminding earlier this week while talking with an acquaintance via Internations that I met at https://torinostratosferica.it, I was told in the early 1990s how the Dutch approach toward stakeholders involvement was considered as an option in other countries.
Countries that had back then a model similar to the one that is most often still used in Italy (i.e. "those who know better" make a choice for everybody else).
You just have to look at routine complaints on Italian newspapers on the "lack of expertise" of our elected politicians, as if a politician's "job" were to replace bureaucrats, and not to give them political guidelines on "do and don't".
An "expert" in Parliament most often is a disaster-in-waiting: expert in something, assumes to be expert in everything, and listens to nobody, by starting discussions from their own dialectical vantage point and, when the counterpart is (obviously) unable to riposte at the same level, are more often than not inclined to assume to be their own manifest destiny to lead others in doing what they assume to be right, even outside their own field of expertise.
If I were an electrician talking with a lawyer, and considered her/his ability to talk in my own lingo as a litmus test of her/his political ability, I think that, unless the request were for a Parliament filled just by electricians and who would then proceed in converting all the country into a giant electrical distribution network, my behavior would be considered at best puzzling.
Now, why should be acceptable, as it is now, for economists or lawyers do likewise?
Is a Parliament of "knowledge bureaucrats" able to cover a political guidance role and represent the whole country?
Or will it focus so much on "rituals" to forget that rituals were actually introduced to streamline and civilize political discussion, not to replace it?
I should amend that paragraph: from showing dead fish, to mortadellas, to various amenities and "shows", I think that the "civilize" part has been long lost (we even had pub-brawl-style quarrels and soccer stadium chants).
In Italy, the more detached lawmakers are from reality, the less relevant and able to positively influence society at large they become, and the higher their need to go "wrestling style" to attract voters, as we saw occasionally in the past, and routinely nowadays.
So, probably, we are back to square one- since the 1970s I saw often laws that worked only thank to a strong element of a "carrot" for some that became a "stick" for others.
Again, not really what democracy is supposedly about.
Why cashless is a lesser evil in Italy- whatever it takes
As I wrote above, we are at yet another round of "a carrot for some, a stick for others".
In this case, the point is another attempt at reducing the amount of cash (considering the level of tax evasion and "black" as well as "money laundering"/"illegal" economy).
It is quite funny when some Italian politicians say that actually making more difficult to use cash would increase tax evasion.
Do they plan also to stop asking to file tax returns, just because this could force some to lie in their tax return, and replace it with a collective self-assessment by business category, so that the members of each category will declare the same amount (as, I was told, some professions used to do in the past)?
From January 1 2020, any Italian shop will have to provide daily automatically income.
Therefore, unless all the shops turn to cash, it will be relatively easier (and automatic) to monitor those who either suddenly have no income, income below their costs, or even income outside the average- and focus manual inspections from tax police on those who might be worth watching.
Data could actually become an interesting "baseline" for future assessments and legislative initiatives, as well as, maybe, generate few Ph.D. on machine learning within tax and legislative activities.
I was told that many started last year to avoid e-invoicing to ask their suppliers or corporate customers to work cash-based and with no tax reporting: but if you have inputs, you have outputs.
If your company consumes X electricity, Y water, produces Z tons of waste, somewhere in go raw materials and components, and out go products, services, etc.
Countries with no limitation on cash-based transactions could do so until touched by excessive market distortions generated by massive white-washing of proceeds from the "black" and "illegal" economy, as it happens in Italy.
Reducing venues for cash in Italy could actually make other countries aware of their own need to monitor those flows, as our "washers" are quite creative in spreading around the World whatever they cannot use in Italy (do not forget how much money Italian organized crime generates through its role in "international crime logistics"- from human trafficking, to drugs, etc).
As I wrote few times, in the early 1990s, while I had a girlfriend in Germany and travelled there once in a while, a side-effect of the demise of the DDR was that, eventually, some DDR assets were impossible to sell.
Newspapers reported that somebody who had 2,000bln Italian Liras (approx 1bln EUR at nominal value, currently worth much more) in cash was offering to buy cash-based businesses that nobody else wanted.
The logic? Buy a supermarket chain cash, dump more cash into its operations, so that you can expand on logistics, compete and push out of business competitors (and take over them); keep dumping more cash until you can control a large chunk of logistics, supply to any supermarket chain (not only those that you own), and have a perfectly clean "washing machine" that you can use to expand into business.
If you look in any major town in Italy, even recently there were warnings that many new cash-based businesses (cafés, restaurants, etc- sometimes, one every few meters) made no economic sense at all.
Ditto for rotating franchise shops where cash is still tolerated.
Cheaper than washing through ordinary channels, when you have too much cash.
If we move toward higher urban density, removing "black" and "illegal" cashflows is even more important than before, as, otherwise, we risk a wonderful one-two-three.
One, as post-WWII, more opportunities in town will attract more citizens away from agriculture and manufacturing into services (no problem, many would say- let's use more robots).
Two, higher density of population would create more money-laundering opportunities in town.
Three, if more and more businesses return in towns, until towns will be self-sufficient, it will become even more critical all the logistics and production of food outside towns.
As they are still the only ones awash with cash, organized crime will have more interest in controlling the future gold: data, food, water, energy, taking over at inflated prices, happily sold by those who will move in town, or just retire and convert into financial investment their former productive activities.
Currently local producers of e.g. fruits and vegetables are paid often so little, that more than once in Italy I heard some say that few years ago they considered letting produce go waste in the fields, instead of selling it to food processors or freezing facilities, as their production cost (including finance) exceeded what they would get.
Already years ago in Southern Italy few investigations were reported as having shown that organized crime was convering from extortion to "suggesting" e.g. coffee that they produced, logistics for anything from supply chain to land movement, achieving even in some Northern Italy areas something close to attempts to monopoly.
Experiments in cashless and cashback
Few decades ago, there was a shortage of coins, so Italians went "creative".
Banks issued "mini-assegni", i.e. bearer titles in denominations as small as approx. 25 eurocent (purchasing power nowadays: approximately between 1 and 3 EUR, seen from a customer perspective).
Shops started giving, in lieu of coins, anything from buttons (I am not joking), to postage stamps, to telephone tokens, and candies.
Then, it was solved- and we returned to use cash, instead of keeping on with our experiments at self-defined value-representation tokens.
Well, it was all tolerated for a while- but not exactly legal.
Years later, late 1990s, we had a "minipay" (electronic wallet) attempt in Turin and other towns.
As I was working in banking on change at the time, tried it, as I had experimented since the late 1980s other banking tools.
I did use minipay extensively to see what was missing, and share lessons learned with my customers and other colleagues around Italy and abroad.
Well, the key point for shop-keepers (beside that they had to report income) was, then as now, the costs associated with electronic payments.
As a customer, there were plenty of smaller and larger issues, the funniest one was this: I "reloaded" a not-so-small amount, and it was basically a cash advance to the bank (at the time, we were still receiving interest on current accounts).
Then, once I saw the balance disappear.
The reason? Yes, it was cash, but somebody had invented a rule: it expired if not used within X months from when it was loaded.
An incentive to increase spending, but quixotic. Few I met accepted that as a fact (we Italians have this unusual relationship with authority: we accept even blatantly illegal actions if done by somebody with formal authority).
Personally, I checked with my bank, and was repeated that the cash had expired- I did not accept the answer, complained with the bank, was reimbursed.
Then, stopped soon to use it, as shops started switching it off- and then lost touch with the concept (apparently, I wasn't alone).
Also because in the late 1990s moved abroad, then used similar ones first in UK, then in Switzerland and Belgium, before returning in 2012 to have few credit, debit, and cashcards in Italy that had similar features.
I checked now, e.g. in 2013 it was abandoned in another location in Italy, so probably it was still marginally used back then.
The current meaning of "cashback" is "you pay, and get a slice back", e.g. as with a loyalty scheme that I adhered few years ago, but in the end stopped using (except when there were offers only for card-bearers).
Reason? The real value of the cashback was in the order of... 0.1%
Not worth the hassle, and not enough to give in exchange all my consumption data across multiple suppliers.
Long before that, there was an American Express card that gave back a tiny slice on each purchase (1%)- still too small to be an incentive.
Before that various discount schemes associated to a loyalty card, more generous (and there are still some in Italy worth using, as they give discounts between 15% and 40% on selected items- from books in bookstores, to food and groceries).
Anyway, my memory of cashback is linked to London and Brussels, i.e. when I saw people paying with a card asking to charge more than the bill, and have the balance as cash.
In Belgium, I remember that the first time was actually due to a strike long ago, let's say "cash logistics", so, immediately supermarkets had cash and nobody collecting it, and bank ATMs were empty.
Therefore, supermarkets acted de facto as retail banks and ATMs, until they too run out of cash.
While I was living in Brussels, a district of Amsterdam did experiments at going completely cashless- but not cashback, in any shape or form.
As part of my experiments, as in Italy we still have shop-keepers routinely complaining about commissions charged to them by banks and payment processing companies, in one of my few travels across the Atlantic for a customer in 2012 once tried in the US (Wisconsin and Chicago) to go completely cashless, also for tiny purchases, and it was feasible.
When the Italian Government announced its "cashback programme" to generate an incentive for taxpayers/consumers to ask for receipts from shop-keepers and pay using plastic instead of cash, an Italian newspaper published an article supporting a local company as if it were the inventor of cashback.
Well, not really.
Anyway, I remembered anyway that some friends and colleagues, who are quite happy long-time users since it started, had told me that actually the cashback element gradually had become smaller, i.e. most shop-keepers did not give any cash back- at all.
I had heard about the company... directly from the company, during presentations that they delivered at startup and fintech events in Northern Italy, but I was unconvinced from their business model, as the numbers given showed how their revenue was subsidized by their investors, i.e. a "build a presence until you made a profit".
Well, by just opening an account saw that actually they have another source of funding: customers.
Recently they reported less than 200k active users doing around 8 purchases a month on over 300k members.
The "active member" is not what I (and probably you) would assume- it is somebody who actually, after giving information what is KYOC information (ID, tax code, residential address, a pre-existing IBAN, i.e. bank account, that will be debited/credited), set up what amounts to a credit line to the supplier.
There is no membership fee per se- but in order to use it, it is not akin to my old minipay, where I loaded what I wanted when I wanted (and similar wallets that I had in few countries were I lived or worked): you have to set what they call a "budget", which is really a fixed amount that they will reload monthly if you go below a certain threshold.
Say what you want, but I am used to consider a "budget" what I want to spend, and a "wallet" (electronic or otherwise) as something where I put the amount that I want when I want, not a credit line to my "service provider".
Moreover, I found a couple of elements: the lower amount is 25EUR/recharge, the pre-set (you can change it, if you notice) for the automated wire-transfer is 200EUR (already two iffy points with GDPR), and... you cannot delete the profile also if you never charged, you can only "deactivate it" (a direct violation of GDPR).
The curious point is that it takes a week to confirm your identification information, but as soon as they reply, they set up a debit authorization on the account you gave.
Then, you are shown what really "setting a budget" means. I will let you, as an exercise, to assess the amount of the "credit line from consumers", rolling and over 12 months.
As for the "cashback" element that generated that newspaper article: well, at least in my area, really few (less than 10%) of the shops show a cashback- and mainly in service activities, i.e. where prices are controlled by the service agent, not based on comparable prices, as it would e.g. with branded products or food.
But I saw a similar mismatch recently.
If you pay taxes via the payment system set up by the Government, following processes that remind a lot Amazon (actually, up to the logo of the system), a system that offers the facility to keep track of your payments.
Anyway, as they have few agreements with payment intermediaries, you have to pay the intermediary bank between 1 and 2 EUR per transaction (directly to the intermediary of your choice); the additional fee of each intermediary is shown on the payment page- so, you can choose.
If you pay directly from your bank to the State system, using the same code provided by the State, it is... free- but the State system showed that only by paying directly via their own payment system you would have a track of your payments.
Or: taxpayers subsidized the development of a State systems that promotes the business of those few intermediaries that have an agreement.
Next month I will try again a payment via the State system using one of the available intermediaries, to see if the message was obsolete (and also the payment I did directly via the bank is listed), or if it is yet another "XIX century mindset meets XXI century technology" (as it was e.g. while I was resident in Brussels, and in order to vote for the Italian Parliament followed a paper- and envelope-based process that was akin to a "back to the future" travel back to pre-computer times, with some quixotic security choices).
The digitalization benefit
Do you remember, at the end of the Cold War, the "peace benefit" that everybody was looking forward to?
Well, look how much was spent for the wars starte after 1989- and those still ongoing.
In Italy, over the last few years there have been plenty of attempted reforms to actually benefit from the potential savings due to digital transformation.
So, the cashback system proposed by the Italian Government, along with the compulsory "electronic daily data transfer" of receipts, and other bits and pieces of digital integration could be useful to streamline, reduce costs, and improve automatically spotting those worth of a further check, to remove the "human choice" element that, as I wrote in my previous post, has some side-effects within a relationship-based economy.
Anyway, while I consider incentives positive, I think that adding disincentives to the use of cash under the form of a "tax on withdrawals" would adding insult to injury.
Why? Because already Italian banks are quite creative on their piling up of costs, from charging for transfers between checking accounts and their own debit cards, to plenty of other fees that might have been reasonable when there was manual processing- but currently are just revenue streams to cover for inflated SG&A expenses due to inefficient management.
And for my foreign friends: in Italy, we have had de facto negative interests on checking accounts since a while ago, long before interest rates started going toward zero.
Anyway, when it comes to savings from digital transformation, there are few flies within the ointment.
First, as shown by the State payment system, we are continuing to use XIX century processes and organizations while adding XXI century technology and processes.
So, the "customer orientation" resulted in URP (Ufficio Relazioni con il Pubblico- the Italian bureaucracy version of human CRM) that, having no fangs, act just as "sand-bagging" against the "enemy", i.e. the customers/taxpayers, closer to an Adrian Wall than to a single point of contact.
Today, while checking on the census poll that has been converted into a permanent annual poll carried out on a sample instead of being once every ten years, I saw something interesting, along the same lines of other recent changes.
Yes, it is a good, XXI century idea: a permanent poll on a sample that enables to tune the allocation of resources and services, instead of waiting once a decade.
Statement (from the website): "I principali vantaggi introdotti dal nuovo disegno censuario sono un forte contenimento dei costi della rilevazione e una riduzione del fastidio a carico delle famiglie.
La partecipazione al Censimento è un obbligo di legge, la violazione dell'obbligo di risposta prevede una sanzione."
But when I read the website of the Italian Statistical office, I saw something interesting.
- A fraction of the country will be polled each year
- Those polled will receive a communication either directly or in public places
- The poll could be both electronic or via interviews
- For electronic polls, those needing help can check with their local authorities (formally, the local office supporting stastical data collection).
Now, when it was every decade for all the country, it was easy to know that there was a census: with the new "method", every year there could be a census (and you will not be necessarily informed, but will still be subject to a penalty if you fail to answer).
Therefore, I doubt that it will generate "una riduzione del fastidio a carico delle famiglie": expect each time the annual permanent census will be announced that some local authorities will receive an overload of requests- every year.
Also, I am skeptical on the "it will be cheaper" (if you split across 10 years the same activity, you actually increase the costs, considering that you lose the economies of scale, and multiply by ten the startup and phase-out costs of the prepare-poll-process-report-etc cycle), unless the "non-electronic" (i.e. interviews) element is minimal.
Now, why did I check? I did not receive any communication, but, as I saw a sign in a nearby village that my community reports to, I asked around, as the communication showed no limitation in the sample (so, I assume all are interested).
Also while living abroad I was used to ask, when in doubt (and actually used electronic systems whenever available in each country I worked and lived, since at least 2000, after OECD gave in the late 1990s a "push" for e-government).
The sign stated between October 10th and November 13th, by interview, inviting to schedule an appointment.
As per the website of the Statistical office, not everybody will be polled: and how do you know if you are within the sample, if you do not receive a communication?
Again from the website: "COSA CAMBIA PER LE FAMIGLIE
La famiglia può essere chiamata a partecipare a una delle due diverse rilevazioni campionarie oppure non essere coinvolta dall'edizione in corso del censimento:
La famiglia riceve una lettera che la invita a compilare il questionario online: fa parte del campione della rilevazione da lista.
La famiglia è informata dell'arrivo di un rilevatore, attraverso una lettera non nominativa e una locandina affissa negli androni, nei cortili dei palazzi, nelle abitazioni: fa parte del campione della rilevazione areale.
La famiglia non riceve alcuna lettera: non fa parte del campione.
Is a letter posted on a fountain 2kms away stating that the town and its villages are interested a notice of involvement? Or, having received neither a personal nor a "non-personal" letter, can I be safely considered outside the sample?
In Italy, I learned the hard way that in this case you have to double check: a "lettera non nominativa" could be easily lost-in-transit (in a small village, you have to know where the houses are- in the mountains, that is not so intuitive).
I was recently told that if you move, and somebody instead of returning mail addressed to you takes it in when a signature is not needed, you are still liable as if that communication had been delivered to you (try proving otherwise).
Actually, even while living in Turin, sometimes received registered letters from suppliers and local authorities that had been delivered on day X but marked as if had been delivered few days earlier.
So, just in case... I will check tomorrow with the local authority.
Considering that I have almost half a dozen of electronic registrations with local authorities (the regional one, the health system, carta nazionale servizi, tax code, electronic ID card, etc: all with online access identification associated), and ISTAT apparently selected the sample in each location (otherwise, it would be impossible to send letters to those "selected" whenever the personal letter is the communication choice), and even if the sample is the whole area, it would not be too difficult to inform all the citizens of the affected locations if they are in or out the sample.
As you can see, we adopt XXI century technologies and approaches, but processes are still behind.
Along with processes, obviously also organizational structures have still to evolve.
Therefore, few years ago, somebody decided that stopping turnover would be a way to save.
Some said that if you allow to hire just a new employee each four that retire, that can create some issues in knowledge transfer.
But, frankly, it is a common issue in Italy within both the public and private sector.
Since the 1980s, I lost count of how many times I saw budgets (the real meaning of budget) that contained an unusual element.
Let's give an example, using a study I did for a customer few decades ago, on a cultural and technological change (I will just alter the elements involved).
If I move from pen and paper to personal computers, I will have people who will be unable to change; those who will be enthusiasts and maybe have already a personal computer at home; and various degrees in-between.
Anyway, for a while, we will still have to use pen and paper while introducing personal computers- and you have to consider that either you need new people, shift some people from one technology to another, and even have some still operate on both.
In any case, you will have to alter activities so that you can actually reduce the "overlapping cost" during the transition, and benefit from personal computers once you dispose of the last pen and paper activity (whose people might be the last joining the personal computer horde).
Simply dumping pen and paper processes into a computer, in few cases that I studied, generated more work and more inefficiences with lesser flexibility: you were doing more now useless work faster, and this sometimes, for a while, masked the inefficiency (in a BPR study on a system we moved from X to 1/5 X pages, just by doing what was needed, and not what had been implemented as a copycat of what was done manually).
No, I did not forget that you have also to retrain, phase-in, phase-out: I just wanted to make it simpler.
Also, I will have probably to phase-out and phase-in suppliers too, even if you retain them but on the new technology.
In most transitions, instead, it seems that number crunchers assume that from day 0 to day 1 humans can instantaneously switch between technologies, and that there is no overlap (not even from those "interfacing" with those that are transitioning from pen and paper to personal computer): just spend as little as possible on training, and possibly done afterhours (to avoid affecting current pen and paper processes and workload), and you have a new company... ahem.
Now, many processes I saw in the public sector in Italy, both as "customer" and consultant, have another issue: they derive from centuries of bureaucratic history and experience, and ensure both continuity and checks-and-balances.
When you read "digital transformation bibles", often all seems so natural, and some even say that they do not understand why things weren't done so before.
Checks and balances in a country with few centuries (well, in Italy, we actually retained some bureaucratic concepts from well before Renaissance) have another issue: layering.
As archeologists working on sites know, you do not build a city here, then move, and build the new one side-by-side.
It happens, but it is the exception. In most cases that I read about for my "hobbies" (and to find cases worth quoting), or saw in university courses that I followed online, a city such e.g. Turin is built on top of previous "versions" of Turin.
Moreover, it isn't a simple "layering" as in a cake- it is uneven, so in some cases you see on the surface ancient Roman building side-by-side with modern buildings, but if you were to visit the cellar of those buildings, sometimes you could see sections of a Roman wall (in Turin, just visit Palazzo Madama and Porte Palatine, and you have it all).
Sometimes even Italians forget their own history, so I heard "digital transformation gurus" proposing the example of E-estonia, and its "all digital" e-government.
Disclosure: I was a member from 2015 until 2018, as I registered as soon as it was possible without travelling to Estonia (I had to provide my fingerprints to the Estonian border police at the Embassy in Rome).
Estonia did a bold move: after leaving USSR, basically pulled the plug and re-designed its bureaucracy.
In Italy, we are gradually changing- but "jumping ahead" is useful mainly to deliver a nice presentation (mainly abroad), not to change everyday lives, if you skip changing the operational level, and just try to add a full layer on top of whatever is there.
Stating "we will hire back 1 each 4 that retire" is not "innovation"- it is apparent cost cutting but, actually, unless you redesign processes and organizational structures, what you are building is called "backlog".
Recently, gradually for some administrative levels and immediately for others, that "fractional turnover" policy was reversed.
It might well sound contradictory, but, frankly, I think that that "freeze" was a missed opportunity.
Our "layered" bureaucracy could benefit from automation for the time being, while preparing something new by doing that "triaging" I referred to above within the "pen&paper to PCs" example.
Instead of adding new people to new organizational structures with new processes whenever possible, with the sudden "unfreeze" we risk to introduce new people who lack "institutional memory" and will try at best to use new approaches to replicate the results of existing processes.
Such a change would have required, after the "freeze", studying processes with the support of legislative offices of various Ministries and "key bureaucrats" (those really acting as "walking organizational memories"), as a bureaucratic process isn't simply something produced by those that a President of the Republic called "tecnici lunari" decades ago.
It is the result of the lunacy of some legislative bartering that probably extended across a long, long time, and, as discussed at the beginning with the "smoking" and "privacy", probably had few rounds, plus the ensuing tinkering of bureaucrats that need to support its implementation while ensuring continuity with previous bartering and tinkering.
Have a nice week