Who Knew Blockchain Could Make Government This Easy? This Italian CIO

The Italian province of South Tyrol is best known for its alpine mountains and ski resorts. With the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants of any Italian region, South Tyrol is also renowned for its culinary innovation.

It also happens to be one of the most forward-thinking regions when it comes to using the latest technologies, like blockchain, to improve citizen engagement. This is due, in large part, to the vision of Stefan Gasslitter, CIO of South Tyrol. He wants citizens’ experience to enjoy dealing with public agencies to match the beauty of the local Dolomite mountains.

Gasslitter explains the challenge: “Citizens fill out forms every time they engage with the public administration. There are multiple registrations of the same information. We want to change that. We want to ask people for data once and use it forever.”

With blockchain technology, South Tyrol can create a chain of certification that authenticates and maintains people’s data indefinitely — instead of having to verify every instance of someone’s data each time a citizen enters their personal information. Moreover, Gasslitter believes blockchain can act as an integration layer to help simplify the province administration’s IT landscape.

He says, “We have more than 1,000 different software applications to store and use citizens’ data. Every agency is like a small kingdom and doesn’t share data. Our goal is to simplify processes and increase transparency. We’re creating a model of data sharing within South Tyrol that we hope can be scaled across Italy.”

For Gasslitter, this use of blockchain is one plank of his larger strategy to drive the digital transformation of South Tyrol. As an autonomous province and the wealthiest region in Italy, there are high expectations of technology and the means to invest in a digital journey.

SAP is working with the local government to bring this vision to life. Using blockchain technology from SAP on SAP HANA, the two organizations created a prototype to help South Tyrol go digital with citizen data as a first step toward full digitization.

Blockchain: Perfectly Suited to the Public Sector

Holger Tallowitz focuses on creating blockchain solutions for public sector customers at SAP. He explained that Gasslitter could have simply loaded application forms online but that would have been “de-materialization” versus digitalization. Instead the two organizations wanted to use disruptive technology – in this case blockchain – to deliver better services to citizens. By digitizing and securing data within blockchain, South Tyrol can create entirely new models for how it engages with citizens and other organizations.

Tallowitz believes blockchain is perfectly suited to the public sector: “Public processes happen as a result of legislation and so by definition, are heavily regulated. Required information that goes into contracts needs to be vetted and verified. Because blockchain creates a system of record that’s irrefutable and unbreakable, it can make work ‘trustless.’ Trust is given by the mathematics of blockchain.”

Moving forward, South Tyrol and SAP want to develop a blockchain prototype that will digitize workflow processes for telco companies that want to build new cell phone towers.

The Dolomites, which run through South Tyrol, are a UNESCO protected site so telco companies that want to set up new towers or equipment for mobile service must go through a rigorous application process. For example, they must hire external experts and environmental agencies to perform evaluations and show that their equipment will not impact the environment. Sometimes applications are rejected, which might involve going to court and proving that all parties have followed the correct procedures.

“Blockchain can document workflow steps to apply for new towers and make sure the steps are done correctly,” says Tallowitz. “The result is an irrefutable, secure and traceable workflow record.” Looking ahead he says South Tyrol has about 400 different workflow processes that could benefit from this approach.

While Gasslitter moves ahead with new blockchain-based prototypes for digital government, he’s already thinking about how this foundation can be used to better serve the regions’ 500,000 citizens. “We are creating a unique online resource called “mycivis” where people can store and verify their information in blockchain, and use the relevant data for interactions with the public authorities, like to register for schools or apply for houses.”

And he’s just getting started.

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