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Published on 2020-08-04 09:20:02 | words: 1911
When I was living in Brussels, once in the late 2000s a middle-aged woman (Eurocrat?) from the local diplomatic environments said that I was an idealist.
Well, I would rather say a pragmatist that looks beyond today- and this is what enabled me often to elicit then (and also elsewhere since the 1980s) another reaction: conspiracy theories about my information sources.
If you have a bit of historical and organizational memory, a bit of analysis tools and experience, and the attitude I wrote above, the side-effect is being able to often connect the dots before even most insiders do, as they way too many insiders have a "tunnel vision".
In any complex organization (even informal organization), as I often say, a "systemic view" is available often only at the top- formal and informal.
Formal- e.g. for some CEOs, CFOs, CIOs- etc.
Informal- as, the more complex the organization, the more common are, in my experience, some "connectors" that enable to cover the routine timelag between the reality on the ground, and the formal organization.
Anyway, not all those Cxx have a systemic view- others are happy seeing their role as an achievement, letting others be their "vertical" filter toward reality, and never venture from their castle in the sky à la Magritte.
Now, in the XXI century we routinely talk about "digital transformation".
In Italy, a country built up officially in 1861 out of a collection of statelets, and after a continuous stream of wars that goes back almost to the end of the Western Roman Empire, as I often say and write, we still retain a "tribal attitude".
Leo Longanesi decades ago reportedly said that we should write on our national flag "tengo famiglia" (meaning "I do have a family to care for, hence whatever I do should have that as an excuse"), I would add "and belong to a tribe".
A tribal country has another side-effect: we Italians routinely (rightfully) complain about the way too many laws that try to regulate every detail of our life- usually, as a "fix" after some event, and, usually, based upon not a rational or social choice, but after a negotiation between tribes based upon the current balance of power.
And when the balance of power changes? Well... just look at how many laws in Italy amend details of previous laws and regulations (including the latest batch): some amendments are based on general consensus, others on consensus on reforms (i.e. looking forward), but others are what routinely opposition forces and tribes excluded from the choice denounce as a favor to this or that.
With the curious habit that, once in power... this is a shared habit.
Now, I would like this article to be as short as possible.
So, I will go straight to the point.
Over the last few weeks, in Italy we remembered many dark pages of the First and Second Italian Republic (i.e. after WWII and after the early 1990s)- and, sadly, despite all the routine proclamations over the last few decades by national and local authorities of an Italian FOIA (Freedom of Information Act- yes, the US acronym was even used by some local authorities), it still seems that transparency is one-way.
Or: even the recent Legge 77/2020 de facto removed some bits of privacy- wearing my technical hat, i.e. number crunching for business since the 1980s, disclosing data but hiding identity keeps identity hidden only if you share few data; but, as you increase the number of "dimensions of analysis" on each citizen collated, eventually only the name is missing- but everything else needed to influence behavior (which is what usually those trying to get personal data want- to push their services or wares)... is there.
If interested, have a look at the articles that I listed as "structural changes" within the "timeframe" section of the webapp that I released few days after the publication on the Gazzetta Ufficiale of 2020-07-18.
Now, consider the article so far as a preamble to the explanation of the title.
It isn't just due to the EU recovery plan that we are working on "making it simpler" (again- as "Keep It Simple S-----" is somewhat elusive, for the "tribal" attitude I discussed above).
As I wrote above, and within the article linked in the previous paragraph, making it simpler (and manageable), we had a lot of work to do.
A cultural change, not just a formal change.
And, as I said to some, I think that at last, all the criticism, including on the "Stati Generali" preparation work, and the comparison with the preparation work for the September meeting organized by the opposition party Fratelli d'Italia where the Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri (PDCM, that many shorten in "Prime Minister", but the role is different) Conte accepted the invitation from the leader of the opposition party Meloni to attend, worked.
As, at last, in the evening of the day when I published the article above, it was published on "Il Sole 24 Ore" (the industrialists' association newspaper) an article about the guidelines for the proposals that had been sent with a tight timeline to Ministries from the PDCM Conte.
So, overall, both the Government and the opposition are starting to accept the reality: it isn't just about the 209bln from the "recovery" part of the EU plan, it is a "perfect storm" that did not happen since at least WWII, a chance to rebuild.
Personally, this is the reason why I think that in Italy we need something more than a new set of laws, or reforms, resulting from the usual "negotiation between tribes"- as this would cover current interests (e.g. the obsession to focus on releasing funds only to activate building sites, to prop up the turnover of existing companies).
Instead, what we need now is to build something thinking about structural changes that will affect (and, in most cases, paid by) future generations- exactly as it was after WWII with the "Costituente" (elected on purpose to write the Italian Constitution).
While remembering the August 2nd bomb of Bologna of 1980, at last both the President of the Camera dei Deputati and the President of the Senato promised to work toward removing the "secret" on the investigation documentation.
And this brings about the second half of the title: making it simpler is something, as I wrote above, that should be considered with a "Costituente" spirit- looking pragmatically toward the future.
I started living full-time abroad in the 1990s, after first being abroad when I was a teenager in the early 1980s for political activities, mainly in French-speaking countries, and then, in the late 1980s, for business, mainly in English-speaking environments.
In the late 1990s, I actually spent my time between English-, French-, German-speaking environments.
So, when I started supporting start-ups in Italy in the early 2000s, in preparation of my (then aborted) return to Italy, while at the same time accepting to work part-time in Rome at a discounted rate as Project Manager and Business Analyst on projects for Italian Government entitities, I was surprised to see how in Italy, both in the private and public sector, externalization was all the rage.
It went so far that, in both sectors, routinely found "temporary" employees covering "organizational memory" and "business continuity" or "governance" roles for five, ten, or more years- a distortion and a risk, as obviously eventually side-effects might include adopting practices not because they are adapted or an optimum for the "customer" organization, but simply because they are a Trojan horse toward further activities for the supplier, optimizing delivery by corralling all the customes toward a unified, standard process (standard for the supplier).
Creating economies of scale for the suppliers, and externalizing diseconomies toward customers (and this is usually visible only on the technological side, but even more pernicious on the business/conceptual side).
Actually, at the time had created an e-zine with 800+ management-level readers from 500+ organizations (in English and Italian), focused on cultural and organizational change (it was between 2003 and 2005, albeit few years ago published a book to update the content, and then more recently a "looking forward"- you can see it all on BusinessFitnessMagazine.com).
So, I did some cross-checks, and saw something interesting albeit worrying.
Externalization usually should be about execution, while retaining in-house the ability to "steer" and "evolve".
Well, both in the private and public sector, unfortunately, as I wrote already in 2003, we ended up externalizing also what would be needed for real governance, e.g. "organizational memory".
There was an even more worrying issue: it is already tough within the Italian institutional culture to make employees of the State and local authorities remember that data privacy and transparency on their actions apply to them.
With externalization to private sector suppliers, often, beside losing control on evolution, the State and local authorities also lose what in a democracy should be taken for granted: transparency.
So, we have way too many "black boxes" that here and there appear whenever there is an investigation.
Some are due to the lack of knowledge, lost within both the private and public sector on the "customer side", some are due to lack of transparency, due to the usual "commercial confidentiality".
Now, celebrating the bridge in Genoa built in just two years, many invoke applying that as a method while talking about "making it simpler".
Personally, as I wrote repeatedly on Facebook and Linkedin, I disagree on this idea that "making it simpler" implies extending the model adopted in Genoa.
We need instead to rebalance the distribution of "knowledge ownership" toward a healthier balance, i.e. keeping inside (both in private and public sector entities) the knowledge needed to steer and evolve and control, and externalizing execution- if needed, by also temporarily using external resources (and retirees- as externalization implies often retiring employees with higher seniority and experience) to rebuild the knowledge that was lost.
All this with the aim to achieve greater transparency both in the public sector (a "must", for democratic control), and in the private sector whenever dealing with the public sector (ditto).
While, at the same time, rebuilding also in the private sector the ability to be a partner in social transformation (digital transformation is just an element).
Otherwise, the risk is that few key business and technological players will actually, without transparency, steer the whole evolution of society, usually hiding behind a "making it simpler" mask, e.g. "sharing the same platform"- a platform whose contents and key features are defined without any democratic debate on purposes.