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13. Principles for the development of digital projects

This chapter contains the principles that are mentioned here and recommended because due to being considered fundamental to the implementation of the projects contained in the Plan. The arrangements are both of a practical nature - for management of the project - and of a contractual and administrative nature for the drafting of the contract, the definition of the objectives and the procurement of resources.

Finally, the preparation of a digital project for the creation of a new system or the evolution of an existing system requires:

  • a clear outline of that desired (design);
  • a plan of how to build it (implementation);
  • a strategy to lead it to being adopted by the end-user (launch);
  • a plan to keep the system up-to-date, secure and effective over time, as well as to ensure its continued operation even in the event of malfunctions or disasters (evolution and maintenance).

The following paragraphs describe these points in greater detail.

13.1. Design of the project

The design phase is essential for the successful outcome of the project. In this regard, please refer to the chapter Service Design of the Design Guidelines for the web services of the PA [102]. In particular, during the design of the services it is recommended to:

  1. Always involve the citizens, starting from understanding their needs (Strategy no. 1 in the Guidelines). This means imagining how the citizen (or the end user) will use the system and ensure that all features are designed around his/her needs, enabling him/her to easily and quickly obtain what is needed - without unnecessary steps and with instructions that can be understood by anyone.
  2. Studying to understand, documenting so as not to repeat (Strategy no. 3 in the Guidelines). It is necessary to know the context in which a project will work, define its objectives, comply with standards, and research on possible alternatives at national and international level, as well as on the availability of successful tools and processes that can be reused. Each phase of project development must be documented and made available openly, on the one hand to ensure its future integrity and sustainability, and on the other to allow possible collaborations that could add value to it.
  3. Apply the *Only Once* principle (Strategy No. 6 of the Guidelines). Avoid citizens having to provide the same information more than once. Each process must be designed to be as simple and user-friendly as possible, replacing old procedures when needed.
  4. Outline the objectives and metrics. It is therefore necessary to identify the objectives to be achieved in terms of functionality and processes, along with the metrics that can evaluate the success and appreciation of the project. For example, in an electronic billing system, a goal might be to “have a process that never requires printing invoices”. Whenever possible, it is recommended that objective metrics are used rather than data obtained from questionnaires or surveys. For example, considering the “number of invoices printed traditionally” as an indicator of the inadequacy of the system or the “number of invoices sent electronically” as a success factor.
  5. Start from the data (Strategy no. 4 of the Guidelines). To make decisions based on real behaviours and data, it is necessary to implement services and processes that are entirely digital, not merely the simple transposition on-line of a process traditionally delivered.
  6. Nominate a *Product Owner*, being a person who - preferably within the PA and in any case not linked to the company that will produce the product - knows the expectations and needs of end-users of the planned service plus has a clear competence on the processes that are to be digitised and the desired result. For example, in an electronic billing project, the Product Owner will be a person who understands billing processes well and will be able to guide project executives by providing advice and guidance on how to send and process such invoices, the data they contain, and so on.

13.2. Implementation of the project

In addition to following the Design Guidelines for PA web services, in producing a plan on how to implement the project, it is recommended that the PA:

  1. Nominates a *Technical Project Manager, *or a person who, within the body or in any case not linked to the company that will produce the product, has strong expertise in the technologies that will be used and is able to verify the quality of the work, helping to coordinate the activities. This individual can be identified as the director of the execution of the work stipulated in the Procurement Code [103] or one of his or her delegates.
  2. Define a minimum viable product (MVP) and subsequent incremental steps that will deliver the required features one by one up to the completion of the work, possibly using agile methodologies such as Figure 11 fees due to suppliers that will only be paid out on the completion and verification of each of these steps. It is also recommended that the product be made available to experimental users without waiting for all steps to be completed in order to identify any problems, critical factors or risks as soon as possible.

Finally, it is suggested that, at a contractual level, to achieve the completion of the product, these steps may be subject to changes throughout the course of the work, based on the results obtained and the measures of success identified.

../_images/figure11.png

Figure 11 - Agile Development Methodology

From a technical point of view, it is also necessary:

  1. To make the data open, share processes and tools (Strategy no. 8 of the Guidelines). To share all the data, every process, every code, every idea, every failure and all the information, it is necessary and vital for all the services to promote transparency and quality in development. The code and documentation of each service provided by the Public Administration should be issued in open format with an appropriate licence to save time and costs; where this is not possible, the impediment should be adequately justified.
  2. Favour free or *Open source* components, namely software components whose source codes are available and, if possible, freely editable and adaptable to PA requirements, as specified in Article 68 of the CAD. The use of commercial products or sources whose sources are closed must be carefully justified and only allowed if the cost and functionality needed for the project make them more appropriate than the Open Source alternatives.
  3. Choose hardware solutions based on cost-effectiveness and efficiency estimates, in particular by assessing the cost of migration to alternative solutions (exit from a lock-in) and ensuring technological neutrality.
  4. Make use of the *Cloud* of the PA. Except for demonstrated technical reasons, the software and the project must be designed for use on the Cloud of the PA as defined in paragraph 3.1 “Data Centre and Cloud”.

Finally, the software that is being developed must:

  1. Be structured in micro-services, or components that perform a few well-defined features (e.g., tax code verification, user existence in the database), controlled through APIs and easily reusable, so that they can be made available to other PAs via the Developer Community (cf. Chapter 7 “Tools for Generating and Delivering Digital Services”).
  2. Expose the APIs, namely create interfaces that allow systems to communicate and interact with each other easily and automatically. The interface exposed to the user and all the features of the product must be constructed using these APIs (cf. Chapter 5 “Inter-operability Model”).
  3. Use databases designed according to the rules outlined in section 4.1 “PA Data” and, in particular, insert into the Data & Analytics Framework (DAF) [104] the information on the nature of the transactions and their mutations over time.
  4. Maintain the inter-operability of data, services, and processes according to AgID’s inter-operability and co-operation rules, subject to the criteria required to ensure the privacy of users. The data must be made available as Open Data and is to be accompanied by an exhaustive description of the fields and their meaning (metadata).
  5. Utilise solid testing and qualification strategies, being with the use of unit tests, functional tests, and fuzz tests to verify the code and conduct stress tests to check the load that the product will be able to support. It is also advisable to use static code analysis strategies, and to audit results to address security issues.
  6. Use *Best* Safety Practices such as encrypting passwords and networking.
  7. Include all necessary documentation, meaning the inclusion of documentation on the structure of the data used (fields, tables, etc.), how the software works and is used, as well as documentation about how the product works, how to maintain it, update it and monitor it.
  8. Be part of the PA, that is the contract must specify that all product rights, from code to documentation, domain names to licences, third-party libraries or patents registered on the product belong to the PA. In this way, the PA can continue the evolution of the product, even by using suppliers other than those who originally developed it.
  9. Be made available to other PAs that are registered in the Market Place of Consip and, whenever possible, be freely available with sources and documentation, with open licences that allow the use, modification or evolution by third parties.

When it is important to integrate the project with third-party software or pre-existing systems, it is advisable to:

  1. Provide testing tools and infrastructures, requiring the provision of facilities where own software, test accounts, or simulators can be tried that can be freely used by third parties to test component integration.
  2. Use and document processes to coordinate software updates that include mechanisms to announce the upcoming release of new versions (newsletters, forums…), release in testing environments and release into production only after functional verification with system users and third-party software in testing environments.
  1. Make libraries and development kits available, being code samples and software components ready for use by third parties in their products to integrate with your systems. This facilitates reuse, improves code quality, decreases maintenance and upgrading costs, significantly reduces the risk of incompatibility and implementation that does not meet specifications, and decreases development costs for each third party.

13.3. Launch of the project

In establishing a route for the adoption of the project, the PA must:

  1. Identify the adoption strategy of least resistance, namely determining the way that is easiest, fastest, and has minimum impact in starting to have the product be adopted, even in limited or incomplete form. Rather than introducing great changes in one step, it is preferable to take small incremental steps - individually simpler and less risky - towards achieving the ultimate goal.
  2. Identify an incremental use strategy, namely being to find the mechanisms that enable the adoption of the product, first by a small number of users, then by a wider number and ultimately by all users. It is important to highlight how launching a service for the totality of users does not stop the development activities or the completion of the product. Conversely, when possible, it is advisable to identify strategies that will allow you to use the product even before it is completed in order to identify problems, rearrange priorities and begin to provide the benefits of innovation, even with a partial product.
  3. Outline a plan to launch the product completely, or to disable the previous product. For large-scale projects, it is important to point out that a launch strategy may require not only product realisation, but promotion campaigns with users, mailing mechanisms (mailing lists, Twitter, showcase websites) and everything that is considered important to lead to the adoption of the product itself.
  4. Communicate effectively, often, anywhere (Strategy no. 5 of the Guidelines). The Public Administrations must clearly communicate the usefulness and prerequisites of the service, as well as all the information regarding personal data protection, privacy protection and computer security, reaching citizens through the most used and widespread communication channels, giving them access to their data plus the possibility to check and correct it, maintaining a continuous dialogue, even beyond and after launching the service.

13.4. Evolution and maintenance of the project

When defining the strategies for evolution and maintenance of the project, the PA is advised to:

  1. Ensure regular maintenance and upgrading of all software and systems in order to prevent security issues, and ensure software compatibility with new technologies and compliance with regulatory evolution.
  2. Ensure a plan for the continuous evolution of the product, being to establish or have a strategy to improve the product after launch, add functionality, correct issues and, more generally, allow it to be upgraded.
  3. Ensure a *Disaster Recovery* and *Business Continuity* strategy, that is, ensure that in the case of malfunction or disaster, critical data is not lost and it is possible to continue to deliver services even if in reduced mode.
  4. Ensure continuous verification of operating parameters, such as software monitoring (errors, requests, latency), periodic audits to ensure its security, and so on.
  5. Prepare all the necessary procedures to avoid *lock-in*, while keeping open the possibility of switching from one supplier to another. The use of several suppliers for the creation, maintenance and launch of the product generally guarantees a better migration capacity to another supplier.

13.5. Existing projects

For pre-existing projects, or for digital solutions that are being implemented or already in operation, it will be necessary to migrate gradually to an approach that complies with the guidelines set out in the Plan, within the limits imposed by the adjustment costs and the reduction in operating costs.

Notes

[102]http://design.italia.it/linee-guida/service-design/
[103]Cf. Article 101 of the Code of Contracts Legislative Decree no. 50 of 18th April 2016.
[104]Cf. Chapter 9 “Data & Analytics Framework”.
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