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How COVID-19 revolutionised Italy’s use of tech

by Sophie-Lou Arcese Le Nir

With the coronavirus emergency and  lockdown restrictions, Italy has had to quickly rethink its working and consumption habits, while for many European countries, telecommuting and e-commerce were already common practices, Italy was caught flat-footed.

Indeed, in the EU, Italy ranks 20th for internet access, with 85% of households having access to internet while the average is 90% at the European level. In terms of e-commerce, Italy ranks 24th with only 8% of the population doing online purchases against 20% at the EU level. When it comes to the use of online platforms for public administration procedures, Italy ranks 27th preceding only Romania.

As such, it clearly appears that the cradle of Western civilisation hasn’t kept up with the digital developments and this delay could be fatal for its economy, particularly for the local retailers and the beloved artigiani, who mainly relied on their neighbourhood residents and tourists. This may have been the wake-up call that Italy needs to boost digital innovation in its economy. From tourism to manufacturing, some companies have shown an incredible resilience and are leading the path to the future economic landscape.

With the absence of visitors, the revenue loss for public museums has been estimated at 20M euros per month. While public aid will be put in place to help the sector, the main iconic cultural sites reacted promptly and creatively to the forced closure by developing virtual experiences. As such, it is now possible to do an immersive 3D visit of the Vatican Museums or an audio tour through the pictures of the masterpieces of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. These initiatives have opened the door to technologies in one of the most traditional sectors and there are now plans to enrich visitor experiences in museums with greater forms of personalisation and interaction.

In the manufacturing sector, Prysmian, one of the world leaders in the production of high technology cables, faced serious challenges during the crisis. With over 30,000 employees spread in 112 locations around the world, the company realised how important it was to have continuous communication between all the managers of the group and be able to closely monitor their production chain. As such, they succeeded to rapidly adopt collaborative platforms and create their own management software system.

With COVID-19, business agendas have been revolutionised; while many companies kept postponing their e-commerce project, it is now on the top of their list. In just one month since the beginning of the health crisis, there has been a progressive push towards online purchases, with a rapid change in the way products are shipped and delivered. Co-op Centro Italia, one of the largest food retailers in the country, is in the front line with its “click & collect” services. Online shopping for food & drink items has seen the highest increase since last year (+9,9%), with a peak of +162% on the third week of lockdown compared to the same week last year.

In the meantime, in order to ensure hygiene standards, many local stores have accelerated the turn to digital payments.  Butchers, bakers and other traditional shops have more than tripled their digital payments, reaching peaks of +350%. Growth in e-commerce and digital payment has led to more opportunities for fintech companies in the country. SumUp, which specialises in portable card readers and payment solutions for merchants, artisans and SMEs, has seen a 250% customer growth in the last year. In Q1, Satispay, a digital payment app, has exceeded one million, with an increase in the use of services of 30% before and after lockdown.

Even public services entities, such as the autonomous province of Bolzano, are adapting their services. In just three weeks, the local authorities managed to change the destination of an IT project, based on SAP technology, transforming it to facilitate the request procedure of a financial aid created to support local professionals and SMEs during this crisis.

Since the lockdown phase, connectivity has become a priority in Italy and aspects such as internet access, online communication and digital payment, as well as online security, are now of primary interest. Over the forthcoming months, all businesses and public organisations will be reviewing their processes, systems and technologies, leading to new opportunities for the ICT/Tech companies.