- Published: Friday, 02 November 2018 20:08
Message for my Italian readers: a partire dal I novembre 2018, tutti i post saranno in inglese, per velocità e per consentire di condividere i contenuti con i miei lettori stranieri- e ciò implica che conterranno elementi che probabilmente saranno ridondanti per i lettori italiani.
[Translation: effective from November 1st 2018, every post will be in English. This will speed-up the process and ease sharing with my foreign contacts. Side-effect: some of the content will be redundant for Italian readers, as self-explanatory, but needed to cover for context and cultural differences.]
Today it is a Friday, and while yesterday was a public holiday in Italy (actually, a religious holiday), today is more or less a working day.
Today many offices were closed, to cut down on costs, as anyway activities are slowing down- not really a good sign.
These last few weeks in Turin were quite eventful: from the aftermath of the mismanagement by both the Governor and the Mayor of the "run" to be "the" option presented by Italy for the Olympic Games 2026, to... the aftermath for the choice of Turin not to go ahead with the Lyon-Turin high-speed connection.
Well, on the former, I think that, despite what others would say, it is correct to say that both Governor Chiamparino (PD, centre-left) and Mayor Appendino (M5S) did a quite curious job.
I wrote something in Italian a while ago, on July 20th (http://robertolofaro.com/dirittodivoto-com-section/diritto-di-voto/309-controcorrente-olimpiadi-s%C3%AC,-ma-non-da-soli).
My position? It did make more sense to have a joint presentation from Turin and Milan, at least to offset some credibility issues related to how was managed the aftermath of the Olympic Games 2006, now that "sustainability" and "long-term" are a "must" in Olympic Games parlance.
To recap for my foreign readers: in the end, the proposal was a joint proposal Turin-Milan-Cortina, but immidiately after the choice... public statements from Turin reassured the local public opinion that Turin would keep going proposing its own "lonewolf" option.
Well, that wasn't the option presented by Italy, and few "details" part of the campaign to try to shift the balance toward Turin were at least quixotical.
But this is a sideline on the main purpose of the article- I would just say that most of what was within my 1990s book on communication case studies and recoveries ("Public Relations Practices") was used in the negative.
On the high-speed train link between Lyon and Turin (TAV), as I wrote few days ago on Facebook, I disagree with the decision, as I support the high-speed link as I did support the others around Europe while living abroad- from the ICE, to the TGV, to the Eurostar, to the Thalys, and those in Italy.
Anyway, in a representative democracy, those who won the elections, if they have enough representatives elected, can vote for or against a decision.
Why do I support the TAV? Because I saw the difference that high-speed links can make in fostering the development of something more than tourism, e.g. creating different business patterns and collaborations- it is an enabling factor, doing a cost-benefit analysis based on past business models is akin to ruling out the concept of cars as horses are more efficient while the infrastructure to support cars is not yet available and there isn't enough demand...
Just look at how changed the work balance between Turin and Milan after the introduction of the high-speed link: instead of around 2 hours (counting with routine delays), now 50 minutes are enough.
When I lived and worked in Milan in the early 1990s my company paid a residence on the Southern part of the town, and if I a missed the right "window", it could take much longer than 50 minutes to get from Famagosta to Porta Ludovica.
Anyway, my motivation to support TAV has little to do with the reason described by those who complained about the decision.
As I wrote few days ago, most of the various oppositions to the decision to stay out of the TAV were holding either local (Turin) or regional (Piedmont) office before, during, after the Olympic Games 2006 and the associated infrastructural development in Turin.
Frankly they cannot lecture anybody on infrastructural development and management.
You just have to have a look at what is left of the infrastructure built for the Olympic Games 2006.
Also, the locals in my age range (50 and over) know fairly well that short-term choices with long-range infrastructural misalignment isn't a novelty in Turin, since the 1970s (e.g. we have just one line of metro, but because it was turned down decades ago).
So, instead of complaining and trying to play the usual Italian game of winning elections after the elections, it is time to look at the potential futures opened by this set of choices, i.e. the loss of the Olympic Games 2026 run and dropping Turin from the TAV update.
Personally, I think that, unless there is a creation of development opportunities locally, the TAV would be useful just to bring customers to hotels, restaurants, shops in Turin: not really "development", as it would never replace (for the locals) the income produced from the manufacturing past.
Because Turin has been contracting its own industrial background for a long, long time.
But as anyway would have taken years to complete the connection, I think that "seeding" that development has a shorter timeframe.
Forgetting the development side beyond mere shopping and tourism would lower the long-term viability of local manufacturing research centers and academic excellence institutions.
Somebody keeps boasting about the resources available to the two main local banking foundations: granted, but 8, 10, 20 billion EUR linked to the value of stock-market assets within the Italian market have currently shown a high degree of volatility.
Those assets are not, despite what some politicians seem to think, equivalent to 8, 10, 20 billion EUR cash.
In many local conferences between Turin and Milan since last year I saw a slight "coasting along" attitude concerning how to re-launch the Italian economy, and this is stronger in Turin, despite plenty of data showing some issues, and a continued shift of the balance between high-paying and low-paying jobs.
Developing "excellence centres" e.g. in health implies having an economy able to sustain them long-term.
If the local economy can increasingly provide mainly jobs in lower-paid service industries, this implies that somebody else should support the running and maintenance costs.
Or somebody believes that 600EUR/month salaries can deliver enough to support what overall is few thousand EUR/month per bed, moreover if the "customers" of those structures will end up being those who get those salaries?
So, salaries (not even higher-paying jobs' salaries) aren't enough: there should be more.
I think that Turin has more or less a decade to secure (not just kickstart) the medium-term future of its existing educational and research infrastructure (and potentially spot long-term opportunities to re-invest on), using only existing resources (financial and human) to that end, before both will fade away.
Meaning: the timeframe is much shorter to actually "seed" the future of a self-sustainable educational and research infrastructure that can create incentives to interact with Turin also for high-return activities (with or without highly-paid jobs- in the future, value will not be just generated by human labour).
We live in the XXI century: I am not talking about adding, say, 20,000 foreign residents working in research centres.
Probably, just a fraction of that would be enough, if the "rotating community" (e.g. for various temporary or long-term but part-time initiatives) gravitating (locally and remotely) around our "excellence centres" were to be larger.
Otherwise, the local economy will keep rerouting the proceeds of past investments toward the support of... talent acquisition by foreign and national competitors.
Therefore, I am happy about the first place in the national contest to create centres of excellence à la Fraunhofer in Italy, focused on manufacturing, 4.0, etc.
Yes, it is a bit of "far le nozze con i fichi secchi" (i.e. grandiose plans with limited resources), if you compare with the resources provided not just in Germany, but also in other EU countries (I shared a while ago some number crunching about our differences).
But, again, with the existing pool of interests and resources (human and financial), while waiting for alternative plans to the TAV route and connections, and a relaunch of the Turin airport, it is a start.
I heard some from business asking to relaunch the airport by adding more connections: sorry, but it is akin to those complaining that Turin has less 5 star hotel rooms per capita than many Italian towns.
Airlines and hotels are businesses, working for profit: if there is neither demand nor credible prospects about that, why should they invest?
It was, therefore, curious to see the description of the research for the CEO that I received today from Monster:
My comment (shared online)?
if interested, an #opportunity if you can blend #engineering, #business, and also experience on #EU #funding (I met many in Brussels attending e-practice events that could fit the role, a decade or so ago)
PS why I do not apply for this role?
1. titles required
2. I think that, in the local environment, it would have to be even more explicit that the aim is "open source"/"public domain" for anything that will be done ("metterà a disposizione...linee...innovative" and "costituirà punto di riferimento" blends two different approaches, vs. confidentiality)
3. otherwise, companies would expect a level of confidentiality on support similar to the one that I saw while working on private banking projects in Switzerland- which would require a cultural paradigm shift
Because, frankly, I would prefer somebody bringing fresh ideas, not just somebody seconded from an existing office, as a "sinecura".
In Italy, way too often we set up entities and then assume that importing an organizational model that makes sense is the main issue.
It is akin to saying that in order to transplant a kidney you just need a spare kidney: "functionality" isn't enough, "compatibility" is a critical element.
Recent articles and interviews in Turin showed that also academic and business organizations are worrying about the local "small is beautiful" concept.
I did an exchange in Italian about another article, this time concerning a proposed reform (in Italy, keep considering even laws just as if they were "proposals" until implemented, as often the regulation implementing the law adds "meaning").
"Il de profundis per contratti a termine e agenzie del lavoro @LaStampa
NDR dissento: se i termini della riforma saranno quelli che ho letto, è meno ambigua e più "contestualizzante" dell'attuale normativa- dovrebbero esser l'eccezione, non la regola...
[Translation: the death knell for temporary contracts and agencies
My remark: I dissent: if the reform contents will be those that I read, it is less ambiguous and adding more relevance to "temporary contracts" vs operational conditions than the current regulations- temporary contracts should be the exception, not the rule]
If you are interested about the whole discussion, see here https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6464139116396236800
The concept: in Italy, we have "temp" contracts, as in many other countries.
But while often abroad these "temp" are either "temp-to-perm" or are used to cover for "peak" activities, over the last 20 years increasingly became the bread-and-butter of business life in Italy.
Yes, this converts theoretically fixed costs into variable costs- but only if they are really "temporary".
And there are significant impacts on the cultural and resilience side, moreover when the "temporary" turns into "decades".
Example: if you had a small (or not-so-small) company whose staff is never permanent, would you invest in their training?
Already in the early 1990s, while I was selling training and methodologies and change services, there was a stark difference in "human capital development recurring investment" (a.k.a. training for "cadres" and managers) between Italian and, say, German companies.
Nowadays, it just worsened.
Up to a point that, recently, some articles complained that many Italian companies required universities to provide "ready-to-use-now" graduates, i.e. trained in current technologies, even more specialized than they are today, without worrying about building the ability to learn.
Funny, if you consider that, since the 1990s, my foreign colleagues often said that instead an interesting element for them was that many Italian graduates, after spending few years working in "ordinary" (i.e. anglo-american) environment were, thanks to their background learning, better able to cope with change than many "too narrow-focused" graduates from other countries who got stuck when a new pattern emerged.
Creating a "competence centre" that aims to deliver both "usable models" and be a reference implies coping with multiple layers of demand.
To make a practical example.
When, in the late 1980s first (on Decision Support Systems) and then in the 1990s (on methodologies, for my company and then as part of a cultural change programme for a customer) was in a similar role, there was a public, shared side, and a confidential side.
Half-jokingly, I said that probably the "public domain" and "open source" side outlined within the job description for the role at the new competence centre should be emphasized, but, at the same time, we would need stricter rules on the confidential side.
Back then, sometimes I built models that could act as "patterns", usable to many, and methodology uses delivered business cases that could ease developing new business cases.
On the confidential side, the results were as smooth as possible, but the process sometimes was nerve-wracking, and something many would like to "gloss over".
Smaller companies used to minimize costs did benefit from the existing law on temporary contracts that ended up being anything but- as they did not really need to build in-house real "demand planning" abilities.
Everything was on demand- basically, instead of having to manage a business on "finite capacity", as they would do with machines on the shop floor, they could, de facto, work on "infinite capacity", without any fixed costs, beside a "skeleton force.
This created an apparent competitive advantage, with two side-effects.
Again, no need to build "demand planning" abilities, or to think about "capability maintenance".
But, more worrying, as they ended up being able to be competitive on labour costs despite the high nominal labour costs in Italy, both locally and abroad could provide activities that required a skilled labour force, but minimizing the cost of keeping that labour force.
A short-term benefit, that reduced the incentive to innovate on processes and products.
Over the last 20 years, along with "excellent" companies that delivered new products and our "pocket multinationals", Italy collected many stories of companies that focused on specific processes or specific tasks- what is needed today, no need to invest (and no slack available) on future competitivity.
Look at the history of Italian small companies: statistics show that Italy has a large contingent of... companies from Luxembourg.
In Italian, these are called "esterovestizioni" (i.e. Italian companies that are actually everything but formal ownership in Italy).
Now, if a "competence centre" on Industry 4.0 etc will be active in Turin, who will be its "audience"?
Small companies that need to get ready to innovate to remain competitive beyond the mere "margin advantage" given them by the contractual flexibility?
The founding partners are a number of large companies.
A complaint I heard often in Italy since 2012 from small companies is that large companies are difficult to work with.
True- but because small companies in Italy both lack internal structures able to cope with the "optimized" (i.e. structured) approach to purchasing and supply chain demanded by large companies, and have a cultural aversion to creating shared processes with other smaller companies to overcome that limitation.
So, many small companies end up becoming sub-sub-sub contractors, while they have the internal abilities and capabilities to supply innovation.
In some cases, these small companies actually provide value upstream, but are unable to "sell" themselves- not in terms of marketing, but in terms of structural credibility.
Some even famously ended up being acquired by foreign customers that recognized the value of their human capital on the operational side, but identified their lack of structure and ability to scale up as a critical weakness in XXI century global supply chain (in one case, their customer paid the sub-failure to deliver dearly).
Now, what should be the purpose of a competence centre?
To provide missing skills? To provide shared research facilities? To foster scalability? To overcome the traditional micro-focus of our way-too-small-companies-managed-as-families?
Probably, all those elements. And more (but there are enough brains out there to fill-in the gap and add more question marks).
As, in the end, if more small companies were able to "scale up" or join forces with other equally small but complementary companies when needed, could act as a swarm and be able to ensure a flexible scalability able to respond relatively quick to changes in technology, business models, or, quite simply, specific business opportunities or calls.
What would be a failure? A competence centre that acts as an external organization specialized in something- as what is needed is an ability to connect, coupled with an ability to look into the future- and maybe even enter blind alley.
So, probably, a first positive outcome could be to consider that, in order to be a "centre of excellence", the first thing that a competence centre should try to teach to Italian small companies is something simple.
That failure is part of the routine in building up future excellence, if you want to move beyond the mere incremental innovation (a.k.a. building a better mousetrap while everybody else is working on removing the need for a mousetrap).
And that failure implies costs-if you want to avoid them 100% of the time, then you are probably content being a sub-sub-sub contractor letting others squeeze value out of your company while it last; then, they can drop and move onto another supplier when there will be a process or technology change.
And now... walking time!