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A Silver Lining Over Bolzano’s Building Authority

Feature Article | July 19, 2017 by Carmen Peter

We all dread them, those grueling visits to authorities. They are not just time-consuming, but also nerve-wrecking. Particularly in Italy, where official procedures can be so lengthy that some Italians even pay pensioners and students to stand in line for them. But what is worse than wasting precious hours of your life sitting around in gray corridors, is having to submit the exact same documents for a completely different matter at another office. Where did I put that expert report again?
But the authorities aren’t better off. Countless dossiers with copies of documents pile up in cabinets and lie around as scanned duplicates are archived on hard drives or servers. Things could easily get lost, confused, or even worse, falsified. Not to mention the glacial processing pace.

In other words, authorities have not yet arrived in the information age. Until now, that is. Italy is determined to change its information structures on a broad scale with its “Agenda Digitale Italiana” initiative. This prompted SAP customer SIAG (Südtiroler Informatik AG), which provides central IT systems for authorities in South Tyrol, to consider Bolzano’s office for residential building subsidies as a first candidate to be finally catapulted into the 21st century. Digital Bronze Age meets future technology. This promised to be an interesting project, a view shared by the ICD Public Services team who were recruited by SIAG to be their SAP co-innovation partner. Being an existing SAP customer, they knew that SAP has the technical know-how and the infrastructure in place to take on such a challenge.

More Trust, Less Approval Frenzy

The teams started out analyzing the usual procedures applied by authorities in the region. But “gray is all theory,” as Goethe knew only too well, so the SIAG representatives and their SAP colleagues finally found themselves sitting in Bolzano’s office for residential building subsidies, where they had the pleasure of observing daily business. They saw scanners running hot, jungle-like system landscapes, and approval frenzies. The case seemed clear: a blockchain solution would enable the office to store a digitally approved document copy on a distributed database – even with anonymized data, due to the use of a unique hash value. A clean, fast, and above all, forgery-proof approach. If anyone were to lay hands on such a document, the altered hash value would give them away. The final goal would be to create an infrastructure that provides access to those documents for all authorities in Italy. So, if you decided to move from Bolzano to Rome, for instance, you wouldn’t need to find all the original documents again and resubmit them. Blockchain’s principle of trust would replace the endless cycle of manual approvals and dubious filing systems.

The app allows officials to create a single dossier per approval process and scan the documents on the spot. The app then forwards the documents to all relevant systems. Officials would no longer have to grab a pile of documents, shuffle down the hallway to the scanner and send the copies to their inbox, before walking back to their office, shifting the documents from inbox to the relevant folders that are then accessed by another official in another office, who then approves the documents without even looking at them, tossing them on to the next system. Phew. In other words, officials would finally have time to discuss their client’s matters for a change.

Taking the First Step

This year’s SAPPHIRE NOW already saw the Bolzano app in action, when SIAG boss Stefan Gasslitter demoed it, but not without explicitly mentioning the pleasant cooperation with SAP: “With this blockchain proof of concept project, I’ve discovered a whole new SAP, more like a startup. They were flexible, very fast in implementing and answering our questions; and I’ve seen a much different SAP, much more empathetic.”

The app should of course not remain a prototype; at least the head official in the Bolzano office would be one happy customer. But first, SAP has to consider its overall strategy regarding new technologies in public services. Holding the balance between driving innovation forward while simultaneously keeping an eye on business growth is a constant challenge that needs to be mastered. A key question for the entire IT industry.

But who knows, maybe pensioners and students in Italy might finally be forced to look for a new side job. On the other hand, who really likes to stand in line — even for money?

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