The evolution of the digital world and digital services has advanced enormously in the last decade. The transition towards a comprehensive digital government able to cope with the innovation of the industry 4.0 (soon 5.0) requires substantial investments to modernize the government sector and the economy marked by such evolution. Increasing budgetary constraints in governments, unable to cope with the fast-growing development of digital products, have supported the integration of the public-private partnership model. Public-private partnerships (PPPs), being the use by governments or public authorities of private contributions for public benefit, are an increasingly effective strategy for drawing together the resources and know-how that are needed to expand and improve support and services for ensuring that States progress in their digital readiness. As the main purpose of the public-private partnership in innovation sector is the scientific and technological development and the establishment of a competitive industry for the functioning of the domestic and global markets thanks to innovative public services, the market has responded quite strongly to this approach.
As PPPs enable a long-term, strategic approach to research and innovation and reduce uncertainties by allowing for long-term commitments, the digitizing industry has adopted such scheme in diverse sectors, from physical infrastructure such as broadband connectivity and cloud services, to immaterial infrastructure and enabling digital services.
In order to support the implementation of federated projects able to empower the interoperability of public and private services and the realization of a Digital Single Market, also through a focus on emerging technologies, the European Union has been heavily investing in PPPs in the innovation field. PPPs have been launched to build cybersecurity solutions in the energy, health, transport and finance sectors; to foster key enabling technologies linked to photonics; to develop the next generation of High Performance Computing technologies; to provide a platform for the industrial and academic community to develop a common roadmap for robotics in Europe;to support Future Internet-enhanced applications of public and social relevance; to maintain semiconductor and smart systems manufacturing capability in Europe and help it grow; and to strengthen Europe’s industrial competitiveness and sustainability in the future.
PPPs have been used as a model to foster the engagement of the private sector in the infrastructural and software development for the benefit of the public good, with an intention to have stronger economies and research and development investment thus enabling a more dynamical and sustainable investment model in the tech sector.
The Recommendation on Principles for Public Governance of Public-Private Partnerships by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development give governments a set of practical references on how to better govern PPPs by creating a clear, predictable and legitimate institutional framework supported by competent and well-resourced authorities as a key enabler for a sustainable adoption of this economic model. In fact, PPPs need to be supported by public awareness of the relative costs, benefits and risks of Public-Private Partnerships and by a transparent and trustworthy process in accessing this methodology.
This promising solution for addressing challenges in digital innovation has also geared in sensitive and once government-only leaded sectors such the identity of citizens.
In Italy, SPID (the Digital Identity System) is a solution, launched in 2016, for accessing public administration online services through once-only digital identity generated by private Identity Providers. Once obtained, citizens can use it to access public online services: from citizen Wi-Fi to payment of school fees. Soon SPID will also be used by the private sector to provide access to their services. By adopting a unique digital identity system, two goals have been achieved: the rationalization of access systems for public administration online services and simplification on the citizen side, favoring the simple and secure use of online services. In addition, SPID is compliant with the European Union eIDAS regulation on digital identity services, enabling the interoperability of public services across Europe. The Digital Identity System was the first central project of this kind in the Italian public sector. The uniqueness of the model comes also from the methodology with which has been launched: it is a public-private partnership at zero cost for the public administration. SPID, as a Public-Private Partnership model, has, till today, engaged 9 different private identity providers that have released more than 4 million digital identities.
PPPs can improve digitalization of the economy and of governments through collaborations that combine innovative efforts from the private sector, forward-thinking policies from governments, support from the academia and encouragement from civil society actors and organizations.
The innovation request in the public sector is constantly growing and forms of PPPs have also been included in new arrangements of public procurement as for example in the field of innovation procurement that has integrated a specific scheme of innovation partnership that allows for the combination of development and purchase elements tailored to public requirements.
By combining private sector financing and innovation, and sharing the risks in innovative ways with a savvy public approach, PPPs can provide much needed savings for the public sector and a fair deal for the private sector, especially in a fast-growing sector like the digital one.