They are the cornerstone of Italy’s National Enterprise 4.0 Plan, playing a central role in its success and in the dissemination of new digital technologies beyond ultra-technological medium and large-sized enterprises, and into micro and small manufacturing businesses. Basically, the government has entrusted the Digital Innovation Hubs with a truly Herculean task - as centres for the dissemination of technology, their task is to bridge the gap between the worlds of business, university research and finance.
But that’s not all. The Digital Innovation Hubs are also expected to create a local ecosystem of innovation - made up of universities, R&D labs, science and technology parks, incubators, fab labs, investors and local bodies - capable of offering any interested business the full gamut of skills required to analyse corporate needs and support the development of Industry 4.0 projects, as well as acting as a gateway to national and European, public and private funding. In short, they should make up for all those aspects that, to date, Italian businesses are still struggling to handle.
And there’s more. The Italian project integrates seamlessly with the European Commission strategy launched in April 2016 with the “Digitising European Industry” plan, which promotes digital transformation in enterprises. This strategy also focuses on Digital Innovation Hubs, promoting an investment of €500m - through the Horizon 2020 programme - for the creation of a network of hubs at the European level. The aim is to offer enterprises the chance to experience digital technologies, disseminate knowledge, create joint projects and share best practices.
Digital Innovation Hubs are expected to create a local ecosystem of innovation.
So, what point are we at? The statistics tell us that, while there is still no trace of any Competence Centre (soon to be the object of a specific call for tender), 12 out of the 19 envisaged Digital Innovation Hubs have so far been created. The first, at least in order of time, is called Innexhub, and involves the areas of Brescia, Cremona and Mantua. What’s encouraging is that this project overcomes the traditional barriers between large and small companies, engaging both the Confindustria network of industry associations and Rete Imprese Italia (Italy’s network of SMEs) in a single, synergistic initiative. Another piece of good news is that the project brings businesses closer to the Universities of Brescia, Cremona, Mantua and Milan, which will support them in their simulation, experimentation and testing of digital technologies within the scope of applied research projects, alongside other technological centres of excellence, such as Isfor and Csmt.
A few weeks ago, a new hub was set up in the Kilometro Rosso Science and Technology Park of Bergamo. In addition to Confindustria, this centre will see the instant involvement of important entities such as Digital Innovation Hub Lombardia, Kilometro Rosso, UBI Banca and University of Bergamo. And then there’s Smile, in Sorbolo (Parma), the aim of which is to disseminate skills and projects relating to the Internet of Things, cyber-physical systems (such as biometric recognition systems), and lean production.
It remains to be seem, in at least one year’s time, how things will turn out. What’s certain, for now, is that this has been no false start. Indeed, we can hope that our entrepreneurial system has finally made that long awaited leap towards new technologies.