2020 | Infratel Italia

Building Connections with Infratel Italy

Visual Analytics, Dataviz, Data Journalism, and Open data

In 2020, Italian telecommunications provider Infratel contacted Accurat to redesign a website that offers citizens information about the progress of a plan to improve the country’s internet connectivity. Come spring and the COVID–19 outbreak in Europe, the project took on a new level of urgency. The revamped website’s transparent approach to knowledge–sharing was a welcome development in a time of uncertainty.

Background

The “Banda Ultralarga” (in English, “broadband”) Strategic Plan was announced in 2015 with the admission that high-speed coverage was uneven outside of city centers. Promising that by 2020, infrastructure to support fast connection would reach every household in the country, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi appointed Infratel Italia—the Ministry of Economic Development’s in-house agency—to lead development of the “BUL” Plan. Yet progress proceeded more slowly than expected, and at the beginning of 2020, installation had only been completed in 92 of the country’s 8,000 municipalities. Impacted citizens were growing impatient.
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A graphic on the website’s new storytelling section charts the progress of the BUL plan since 2017.

New leadership arrived at Infratel in January 2020, with the appointment of CEO Marco Bellezza. By then, delivering on Renzi’s pledge by the end of the year would be impossible. The first priority remained construction, but nearly as important, Infratel needed to reestablish a trustworthy bond with citizens. To do this, Bellezza’s team took a critical look at the information available on the BUL Plan’s website and committed to becoming more user–centric. They enlisted Accurat to build a new web experience that would answer a deceptively simple question (“When will high-speed internet access arrive in my town?”) with precise data.

Then, the coronavirus arrived in Italy.

Unforeseen Development

While the pandemic halted on–the–ground construction, the building of a platform to provide reliable updates on internet connectivity became more important than ever. Infratel pursued an aggressive launch date: six weeks from kickoff to go–live. The only way for Accurat to meet deadlines would be to collaborate closely, remotely.

Accurat’s first task was to check the integrity of the site’s building blocks: data inherited from previous partners. The information was couched in a massive, abstruse file, and parsing it became a joint effort with Infratel’s Engineering and Data Integration department. The two teams worked together to discern content that would help create a better, more meaningful experience for users. While Infratel’s analysts gathered missing figures, Accurat’s developers built the website’s foundation with deputy placeholders. “We designed around the data,” data scientist and developer Alessio Izzo explains.

In action, this meant that designers worked in lock–step with developers. “We followed the pace of development and even the techniques of it,” experience designer Elisa Spigai elaborates. For her, this meant envisioning every imaginable navigation scenario and communicating continually with developers to design user flows inclusive of them all. “I had to keep it flexible,” she says candidly. “We had to make some changes, but it mostly worked in the end.”

The website debuted on schedule, without a hitch. Leading newspaper Corriere della Sera described it at launch as “Già estremamente precisa” or “already extremely precise,” and noted with a hint of admiration that Infratel was developing mechanisms for the service to gather feedback from private citizens. “Having people working at home brought more attention to this project,” project team lead and Accurat co-director of design Pietro Guinea Montalvo acknowledges. In the case of the website’s debut, this was fortuitous.

Accurat and Infratel’s combined efforts demonstrated a nimbleness not often associated with companies in the public sector: a commendable accomplishment in a year rife with setbacks.

“The collaboration with Accurat began at a crucial moment for the development of the country's digital infrastructures. The solutions put forth by Accurat represent a leap forward in progress in terms of the transparency and accessibility of information we provide to citizens.”

— Marco Bellezza, CEO, Infratel Italia
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A view of the entire country on the new web explorer. Users are guided to dive deeper with prominent, unembellished prompts.

A New Experience

At the time of development, Accurat’s workforce was representative of many Italian offices that dispersed because of the outbreak. “A lot of people decided to go to their parents' homes, or to the seaside, where connection is usually worse,” Guinea Montalvo offers anecdotally. The new website for BUL would need to accommodate longterm residents of remote regions as well as their new urban transplant neighbors.
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A closer look at the Abruzzo region shows a wide range of progress. Data visualizations that help users interpret the phases appear in the sidebar.
A sidebar visualization adjusts to show progress according to the six defined stages of development, depending on locale.
An expanded system of color-coding shows six stages of development, and differentiates between wireless and fiber connections.
A timeline featuring detailed projections about future construction plans.

Accurat adopted the map-based interface of the BUL Plan’s earlier website, along with the Ministry’s traditional blue color palette. Updates to the interface become more evident once a user engages to access a comparable trove of information.

Whereas the previous map might have shown the broad situation of an entire region, the new experience delineates each municipality and relays its status with easy-to-understand terms that clarify distinctions (for example, “In Progress” encompasses four sub-stages that include “Implementation” and “Testing”). Colors, rendered in a gradient form, evoke a feeling of progression in contrast to the prior design’s solid hues.

Given the granularity of data—which could present as overwhelming if not contextualized—designers bore in mind navigation. Unintrusive text directs users at each stage of a typical journey to more specific details. At any point, one can opt out of map–based exploration and search for the status of a town, neighborhood, and even address with the help of a chat assistant. And with the latest release, there’s a way to check local progress with even less effort. An integration with voice-activated devices like Alexa and Telegram allows users to inquire about broadband construction, just as they might ask about the weather.

New, interactive data visualizations are designed to engage users and educate them on long-term progress.

The communicative feature is symbolic of the latest phase of the project, which also includes the debut of a new editorial section that’s designed to be built upon, added to, and updated often. These pages will display data-driven storytelling that’s related to Infratel’s work, but that’s more generally intended to educate on digital innovations made possible by widespread broadband access. Data visualization, a key component of the BUL Plan’s rejuvenated visual identity, will continue to figure prominently. As both a tool for communication and a showcase for missions accomplished, it reflects Infratel’s dual motivations in launching a new website: to welcome dialogue, and to elucidate how complex projects come to fruition.
A series of new data viz focus on the BUL plan’s timeline. This graphic shows slated construction plans as radii that shrink and swell adjusting for time.
Another graphic featuring round modules shows progress as a percentage. Users can tune the timeline to show developments accounting for each year and month.
An updated line-graph shows progress in six-month increments. Negative values indicate work completed, and positive numbers convey how long citizens in each region can expect to wait to see results.

“Our goal is that if a new technology debuts, or a new way of communicating gains ground, people will ask themselves what Infratel is saying about it,” Guinea Montalvo says of Accurat’s ongoing involvement. It’s a sentiment that recalls the announcement of the BUL plan in 2015. After a halting start, Infratel has made its way back to an auspicious position, once again ahead of the curve in 2020.

Team
Simone Quadri
Pietro Guinea Montalvo
Cesare Soldini
Matteo Fabbri
Tommaso Renzini
Stefania Guerra
Elisa Spigai
Alessandro Zotta
Ruggero Castagnola
Vito Latrofa
Luca Mattiazzi
Alessio Izzo
Marco Fugaro
Serena Girardi
Ivan Rossi
Ilaria Venturini
Stefano Gallo
Tommaso Poletti
Edoardo Guido
Andrea Pronzati
Arianna Meroni
Services
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