Viewed 3597 times | Published on 2021-12-31 17:40:00
This is obviously going to be the last article that I will publish in 2021.
There are few themes that I would like to touch here, but I would like to start with something that, if you follow my social media profiles online, you are probably already aware of.
I just released a book (more about this in the second section), yet another of my mini-books, this team as a "sequel" to a book that I had published in 2014 (and a third volume will actually follow).
In this short article:
_potential positive externalities of #NextGenerationEU / #PNRR
_digital transformation- a new book on a specific case
_the end of the beginning starts now: leverage on COVID-19
Potential positive externalities of #NextGenerationEU / #PNRR
#NextGenerationEU and #GDPR are both, in their own way, about digital transformation.
It is about time that in Europe we conside those issues interlinked- and the current COVID-19 pandemic is helping to re-assess our socio-political model, not just add yet another layer of "economic freedom".
As economic freedoms work only if you substantiate equal opportunity to access them.
Otherwise, as statistics show, you increase the value of "rentiers", an incumbent economy.
Unfortunately, in Italy, this implies that "living off past proceeds" gives a disproportionate access to key development elements to those who are liquidity-rich.
You can be assets-rich, but if you have liquidity, in a crisis, your increase your competitive advantage.
I will let you consider who, in Italy, since two decades ago, had the most to benefit from high liquidity to expand a grip on the "ordinary" economy based on small enterprises that had limited access to liquidity, and limited access to capacibilities (not just finance) to sustain investments.
The massive injection of capitals (and, hopefully, leverage) associated with the #NextGenerationEU tools (including both the Recovery and Resilience Facility and, in Italy, its local component Piano Nazionale di Ripresa e Resilienza, a.k.a. PNRR, and additional local funds), if properly managed, could redress the balance.
Actually, it is sad to say it, but, looking at numbers, I think that an unpalatable reality has to be shared, that I partially shared in the past.
We have to strive to avoid organized crime infiltrations within the administration (and projects) associated with the PNRR, but, considering their presence in all the industries that are to be most affected (e.g. real estate, house/building construction, associated services), it means making a difference, not removing them altogether.
Or: the difference that we can make is between having them as a minority partner under control, or a leading partner that controls us or, at least, sets the tone for the future.
Yes, the best would be eradicating its presence- but for that, unfortunately, decades of de facto neglect, despite all the communication to the contrary, meant that we can work toward de-fanging and absorbing, "gentrification", as it is called in other domains.
Too much of the "clean" economy in Italy is currently so much intertwined with arm's length dirty resources and influencing parties, that only a Pollyanna-esque demagogue could claim any victory, or any potential victory in the near future.
It is time to contain, integrate to re-educate, and move forward while monitoring any new infiltration and trying to phase-out the existing ones.
Otherwise, it is a continuing war of attrition akin to the filed "war on drugs", as I wrote already in Brussels while witnessing from abroad how often and how deep also within the organization of the State newspapers and even economic research up to the Bank of Italy reported.
And, in a war of attrition, the party that is less cohesive (and, in Italy, we still have to turn into a unified country), is the one whose stance erodes more the longer it goes on- as witnessed by the increase of today vs. the evolution across few decades (I observed personally and monitoring in news only since the 1970s).
Digital transformation, which is one of my key themes in this website (as my moniker goes, "change with and without technology"), could be a significant tool in this new phase in the battle toward turning into an ordinary country.
It only depends on who will drive the digital transformation, and to what ends.
My skepticism on potential misuses and massive money laundering infiltrations of ICOs, various digital currencies, etc has been shared in countless posts and articles since 2007, so I will not repeat here any of those points.
Instead, I would like to shift to a bit of discussion on my latest mini-book, issued yesterday as paperback, and today as digital.
Digital transformation- a new book on a specific case
If you read the previous section of this article, you already read a long tirade about my humble and probably less visible (i.e. not good for careers) way to slowly eradicate infiltrations by either absorbing, converting, or removing.
The new mini-book that I released yesterday (the final drafting was an exercise: using this week, my holidays, to work on it) does not quote what I discussed in the previous section, as it would be inappropriate for a book focused on a new dimension of the socio-techno-political impacts of digital transformation.
In 2014, published a book on BYOD ("Bring Your Own Device"), i.e. the concept of allowing employees to use their own personal devices for business purposes- not really a smart idea, unless you put in place enough safeguards to make it relatively safe.
Well, in our remote working times accelerated by COVID-19, I think that in many cases we skipped more than a few steps.
But I wrote about that in previous articles- so, the book is not about this specific side of remote working.
Instead, it is as my previous mini-books: I write here articles (sometimes over 10,000 words long) where I share ideas, concepts, observations- generally, my "thinking" (I would not dare to call it "research", albeit often there is a bit of that and a bit of medley between my experience and new material) in preparation of further publications or activities.
Each mini-book is a kind of self-contained 50 to 100 pages coherent discussion on a theme, adding both a "recap" (of previous articles, readings, etc), some ideas derived from that and from new observations, and to be used to "seed" a common discussion ground.
Meaning: agree or disagree, it is a shared starting point (I used to do something similar since the early 2000s, a kind of "position papers"-based discussion or brainstorming in management consulting while working on cultural and organizational change, or introducing "new" technologies).
In this case, there is a theme that evolved since 2014, and that, courtesy of the 2020 rounds of lockdown, where I could have been sitting on my hands and instead, as usual, went into "learning/updating overdrive", recovered also, courtesy of AliExpress, Amazon, Ebay a bit of my late 1980s-early 1990s toying with electronics, but updated with knowledge derived from more recent material and from support to technology start-ups trying to deliver or distribute both software and hardware products since the 1990s.
Actually, while in the 1990s eventually I had no time to keep playing with electronics, eventually, courtesy of a senior American colleague who proposed to introduce me both to Mensa and IEEE (I had been already member of the former since 1989, but at the time did not tell anybody due to the boring reactions, except other Mensa Members), joined IEEE, first as an associate (I do not have a degree), then a member (ceased to be a member in 2018- still have to consider if will resume or not).
I really purchased from the late 1990s and early 2000s various devices due to inspiration of my experiments (including late 1980s with AI/PROLOG) and contacts, articles, conferences, workshops organized by IEEE (while in London and Italy) or IET + IEEE (while in BeNeLux).
So, I jumped on a meeting in Milan almost a decade ago by IEEE Standards on discussing IoT, i.e. those tiny bits of "intelligence" added to equipment and devices to make them "smart".
Actually, "smart" in most cases really means: make them both broadcast and receive information, sometimes also processing what they receive or what they "get" from the environment, before exchanging it with other devices.
The mini-book extends on a different concept, based on observation and a bit of reminiscence of my 1990s readings of some sci-fi, including cyberpunk (yes, I want to re-read Neuromancer, my copy looked at me while re-arranging books for a potential forthcoming further relocation).
Do you know what a cyborg is? Well, we are all cyborgs, in industrialized countries, as also those who refuse to carry around devices such as smartphones, tablets, fitness bands, etc... are directly and indirectly influenced by the behavior of those around them who actually do carry such devices.
In mid-2000s, we still talked about "digital natives" (those who never knew a world without electronic devices and personal computers) and "digital immigrants" (those who started pen-and-paper, and then had to add personal computers etc- you can read articles by Marc Prensky that I quoted in the past).
While I was living in Brussels, from mid-2000s, the focus shifted to "digital divide", i.e. those not even turning into "digital immigrants" and, following the late 1990s push from OECD to add e-government services, increasingly unable to access this disintermediation of access to bureaucracies (and associated supposed expansion of citizens' rights) via digital devices.
It is now becoming even worse: digital transformation in Italy during COVID-19 added so many elements that assume that anybody is able to use a smartphone and switching between various channels seamlessly, that is creating a further digital divide.
I am 56 and already over a decade ago saw how my digital native friends were able to do what I was used to do with others as if it were not an exceptional skills, but a routine, ordinary element.
Or: start a conversation on a "channel", keep going on another, switch to another where maybe you have more capabilities or that was simply what was available while on the move, and then get back to another channel and continue.
Anyway trying to follow a conversation on a single channel would get lost, and I remember how puzzled I was when somebody in Italy even younger said "choose: either one channel or another"- a one-dimensional communication, to paraphrase Herbert Marcuse "One-dimensional man"...
I am sorry, but I will not shut down channels just because somebody wants to control all the conversation on the only channel (s)he is used to.
And simply, in that case, cut down connection to the control freak...
Nowadays, it is not even anymore a willing choice, this multi-channel communication: it is a reality of life.
In some cases, and this is the theme of the book, you as an individual do not even know that you are part of such a multi-channel conversation.
Hence, you turn into yet another devices withing a blend of devices.
And your own personal interactions are often influenced by devices without you ever knowing.
So, this has potential impacts on three levels: as an individual, as an organization or corporation (I discuss the difference within the book, concerns also the concept of "swarming"), and of course socio-political.
On the latter, sadly, pervasive "smart city" networks connecting everybody and every device with both private and public parties could create additional risks that are way beyond the worse of any 1984 "Big Brother-esque" scenario- influencing also your perception of reality and freedom of will while expressing your choices as a voter.
So, the 85 pages of the book focus on this bit of the overall theme of digital transformation, paraphrasing the old Arthur Clarke assertion that when technology becomes so complex that those using it do not understand it, it becomes a kind of magic.
Beside the book, available on paperback and digital (unprotected PDF) format, I started to create a "container" for a collateral element.
Originally, this mini-book was supposed to have also a digital part, using various websites, where you, the reader, could experiment with a low-cost fitness band and bits of AI and ML models that I would share online, to show you how it is possible now, also for the non-technical, to integrated "smartly" in the environment.
Unfortunately, the one I had selected (to be as cheap as a copy of the book, just to share the link, not to benefit in any way from the sales) ceased to work after a little while, so decided to set aside that part of the project.
Instead, I continued on the "smart devices" / "embedded" (tiny computers that you can add to physical objects to obtain data from the use of those devices), first as research (yes, this time research), and then publication.
The publication side, if you are interested, will be available on a GitHub repository that I added online in November (currently empty, but will gradually get material free to reuse).
Now, leaving this bit aside, that will be useful in the future (as many of the new projects e.g. within the Italian PNRR will result in new digital services- hence, considering adding further services or integrating via devices with them could add further value), will shift to a different plane of reality, but using both the material in this section and the previous one, looking toward the future.
The end of the beginning starts now: leverage on COVID-19
A simple assertion: future reality is seeded by current reality.
So, as I wrote already in spring 2020, when half-jokingly shared a concept similar to the one in "Equilibrium" (the daily pill to remove emotions) but applied to the "daily test to confirm non-positivity", let's for the time being assume that we could be in for a long journey.
Let's say that #NextGenerationEU and similar elements worldwide are re-introducing an element of "planned economy", like it or not.
Just injecting funding into the market à la "helicopter money" is not enough: we need to ensure that we are not subsidizing for current, short-term political gain "zombie businesses" that were already lingering to a past that was not our current reality even pre-COVID-19.
Instead, the element of "planned economy" does not need a "Gosplan" and its distorting effects.
It just need to link disbursements to targets, and tune incentives according to the desired target model.
As I wrote in the first section of this article, the COVID-19 "recovery and resilience" facilities are able to introduce a different model, and a different level of oversight.
It was already clear when they were proposed, and followed by the design of the budget for the European Commission, that these "extra-ordinary" resources could become the seeding elements of a new structural framework, akin to a further step within integration.
The interesting element of the national recovery and resilience plans (PNRR included) is that they gave the chance to Member States to built their own "path of convergence" toward the set of priorities jointly defined in Brussels.
I would like to highlight the "jointly defined in Brussels" element as, in many countries (yes, including Italy), there is the usual choir of lamentations, as if the rules had been imposed by Brussels.
As I wrote in the past, at least since I lived in Brussels, I saw more than once the curious minuet of proposals or compulsory "report" documents sent from a Member State to Brussels in such a way that then Brussels, when sending back the evaluation or suggested measures, simply had to rephrase it back, and national politicians could sell what had actually been originating from their midst as "imposed by Brussels".
It is a boring game that, in our current conditions (yes, the economies of Member States), it is neither socially nor politically nor economically sustainable.
We need something more, from all our supposed leaders who like only the limelight, but seem to shy away from any choices that could be temporarily unpopular, if we are to minimize the long-term impacts of the current crisis, and speed-up recovery.
Tinkering galore is not what is needed: as any virus, COVID-19 will continue to adjust, and therefore could be "managed" only by setting a framework and then adapting, with a limited pre-emption, not by tinkering with an eye to polls about voters' intention.
A mark of leadership should be the willingness to lose an election and to came out as winner in the end by expanding your political capital, not of being a follower of your own followers.
I think that #NextGenerationEU as well as all the other national and EU-level paraphernalia that has been released since 2020 showed wide opportunities for improvements in the decision-making processes adopted around the continent.
But it will take time- so, some tinkering will continue.
The clearest opportunity is to start from 2022 to use the deployment of the impacts of #NextGenerationEU and related to obtain something more, i.e. structurall adjust not just the rules and regulations (something that in Brussels the convergence between governments, Parliament, Council, Commission often brilliantly achieve), but also the participation model- moving beyond the four liberties.
Yes, I wrote in the past about that, but, being today the last day of the second year in the COVID-19 era, we could say that the "trial period" is done, and it is time to implement adjustments that shift from an overextended "recovery" to long-term sustainable "resilience".
Digital and green transformation are routinely presented as opportunities, but, let's be frank, if we keep the focus on recovery, they both are more a threat to incumbents than an opportunity.
In my view, and I will keep focusing just on the Italian PNRR (see e.g. on GitHub where I posted a selected few items on PNRR and #NextGenerationEU), as I hold an Italian passport and I am currently in Italy, the national recovery and resilience plan has way too much "recovery" and even "digging into files for unfinanced existing projects", and too little about resilience and "next generation".
It is not cast in stone- and, therefore, it measures and components are wide enough to be at least partially adjusted.
And, for those elements that are not adjustabled anymore, there is still the opportunity to use the part of the funding associated with the ordinary budget to, you guessed, redress the balance.
It could be a journey to 2030 that would help to move faster toward the UN SDGs, as well as accelerate other objectives, as e.g. companies that promote fulfilling by 2040 the 2050 objectives.
It is the old joke that I learned decades ago, after reading a bit about Zen (I was a teenager when by chance read a book on the physiology of Zen meditation, to alter my way of breathing as an indirect way to alter other responses): if you put a target on a tree in front of Mount Fuji, as an archer you should aim at Mount Fuji, if you want to get to the target.
Think forward, not just globally, before acting locally.
Change is not for the faint-hearted, as tinkering will get you more friends.
But, as a former Italian President said once "di tatticismi, si muore" (tactical moves subtract resources that make impossible to deliver your strategic aims).
Have a nice end of the beginning, to paraphrase somebody else who, as a friend remembered this morning on Facebook, said also "never surrender".