Several months ago, I decided it was time to increase my expertise to cope with the challenges posed by the Industrial Internet-of-Things (IIoT) and the Industry 4.0. These new fields of the Information Technology represent a sort of natural evolution of my current profession, as the Internet is playing a more and more important role in the industrial sectors as well.

In particular, I feel I need to complement my skills with the knowledge of the basics of the Data Analytics that supposedly will be more and more important to master the industrial devices/systems which are evolving toward new paradigms. For example, automatic mechanisms will replace many of the tasks which humans take care of today, causing a major change of the role of a large number of workers. Furthermore, most of the machines will be “smart” and will be able to talk to each other to share information needed to adapt themselves to the changeable workload they have to process.

The first step of many which will lead to this revolutionized scenario is the collection of a myriad of different data—physical quantities, utilization statistics of the products, type and frequency of the failures/brakes, etc.—implemented on a massive scale. A sophisticated analysis of this huge quantity of data is required to extract new valuable information, thanks to which the implementation of what I described before becomes possible. The availability of this new information (of which not all possible uses have been conceived yet) also allows for developing new business models and for creating new high value-added services. All of this is referred as Big data and Data Analytics.

Even though these disciplines are born in the marketing realm associated with the consumer goods[1], the developed techniques are usable in the world of the industrial applications as well. Starting with this consideration, I wondered if and how to increase my expertise in order to turn myself into a sort of Industrial Data Scientist. With this expression, I mean a professional who combines a solid experience of the industrial issues with the knowledge of the foundations of the Data Analysis. In my view, this combination should result in a unique capability to apply effectively the general Data Analytics techniques to satisfy the specific needs of the industrial world.

That being said, I considered several options to achieve my goal but I had to discard most of them because they were not compatible with my full-time job. At the end of the day, I decided to exploit the possibility to take individual college exams, although they are part of a regular degree course. This opportunity is offered by all the public universities in Italy. In particular, I chose the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice which is about one hour away from my home by train.[2]

What I did to complete the matriculation at this University is a clear example of what I described in this previous post, namely the difficulties which the Italian citizens experience on a daily basis when they have to deal with the public administration.

On the one hand, having the opportunity to enroll at a public university to take individual exams is really great because it is a flexible way to get new high-level competencies very cheaply, as you don’t have to pay the full taxes. Instead, you pay just a fee associated with the exams you want to take (for instance, I paid 185 for the first exam I’m going to take). Once you complete the enrollment process, you will have the same rights of a regular student. You can attend the lessons, you can access the tutoring service, etc. “Awesome!” I thought to myself when I knew of this opportunity.

On the other hand, I naively forgot to take into account the bureaucracy that would come between me and the matriculation. I’ll describe in detail the steps I needed to take to complete the enrollment process because a real-world experience is worth more than a million words.

Firstly, I had a look at the website of the university that, by the way, is available even in English, which is not obvious. A specific page details the enrollment process with regard to the individual exams formula. Incredibly, it says that the process can be carried on completely online. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read it because, when it comes to the public administration, it is very rare that you don’t need to spend hours in some offices to do the paperwork.

I was enthusiastic and I immediately started the process by creating an account on the website as indicated. Unfortunately, this step is not fully automatic. The account request has to be processed by the personnel of the matriculation office. “Fair enough”, I thought. After a few days, I received an email on September 20th indicating that the request was accepted and that I would have been able to log in to the website, starting from the following day.

The day after, as soon as I finished working, I successfully logged on to continue the enrollment procedure. I had to fill out some forms requesting some information about me, the first exam I wanted to take, my regular mail address, etc. I almost completed this step, when I encountered a question which I was not able to answer: I had to indicate the date of the first enrollment in the public university system. As I had already attended a university to get my first degree, I couldn’t leave that question unanswered. However, I was not able to find that damned date! I kept all the papers related to the first university I attended but none of them bears the matriculation date. “It’s not a big deal, I just need to call the other university to get this information”, I thought. On a Friday afternoon, I called it but a recorded voice informed me that that office picks up the phone calls from 9am to 11am only. So I called again the following Monday morning and a kind lady told me that she was not able to give me the information I was looking for. To get it, I had to call a different office. I noted down the number of this one which I called the day after. Probably I didn’t get the right number because this office was not able to provide the matriculation date either. I was suggested to call another one, which I did. Unfortunately, even though I called within the indicated time window, the third office didn’t answer my call. I almost lost my temper, when I thought to ask for advice. One of the interns who is currently working in my company attends this university. He told me to have a look at the specific page of the website regarding the major I graduated. God bless him! Here I found the email address of the office I needed to talk to. I sent an email at 11:16 am of September 27th. After 11 minutes I received the long-awaited answer! (By the way, I first matriculated on September 9th, 1994 … how old I am!)

With this information in my hands, I was finally able to complete the forms of the University of Venice and to move to the next step, which is to pay the fee for the first exam.

When I first had a look at the documentation of the matriculation process, I read that the students can use different methods to pay the taxes, including the credit card. I thought to use the prepaid card which I generally use to pay the online purchases, so I refilled it. Unfortunately, when I had to issue the payment on the website of the university, I realized that not any credit card is accepted. The only working cards are the ones that are issued by the very few banks which have signed a specific agreement with the university. Guess what, I don’t have an account on any of these banks, therefore I had to discard this method. As Paypal is not available either, I had to choose a different method. Among the remaining ones, the pagoPA system seemed to be the most convenient. I had never heard of it before, so I googled it to understand how it works. Again, this is an example of a brilliant idea which turned into a mess when it was put into practice. pagoPA, in fact, should allow any citizen to easily pay any debt to the public administration. There is a website listing all the businesses, the shops, and the public offices which are enabled for the pagoPA payments. According to this website, every office of the public mail service and almost every bank agency is enabled. “Cool!”, I thought. I believed that I just needed to print the payment notification and to go to any mail office which is everywhere in Italy. Again, I was too optimistic. I went to the office closest to my home. When I gave the clerk the payment notification she told me she never heard of the pagoPA system and she had no idea about how to handle it. She suggested me to try to go to a cigarette store. (Traditionally, Italian cigarette stores used to sell stamps as well. In the recent years, they have been enabled to handle several other services related to the electronic payments and the money transfers). So I went to a cigarette store. Even though the pagoPA payments are not that frequent, the clerk was able to process it very quickly because the notification bears a barcode that makes the procedure straightforward, as no manual data entry is required. In less than two minutes, the payment was completed successfully. Although it was quick, it was not cheap as I paid a commission of 2. This happened on the morning of September 29th. I thought that I completed the procedure and that it only remained for me to wait for the notification of the matriculation by the office of the University of Venice.

Again, I was wrong. I didn’t receive anything for over a week so I decided to write an email to the University. The following day, October 9th, they answered confirming that I did everything properly and that the procedure was going fine. On October 10th, the matriculation office sent me another email saying that they experienced a technical problem, as a result of which they couldn’t process my paperwork instead. They also informed me that they’d already issued a new payment notification of 16 for the “marca da bollo” which is a particular stamp that is required to complete many different administrative paperworks in Italy. In practice, these stamps are one of the numerous forms of taxation that our governments invented throughout the decades. Another example of the proverbial Italian creativity … Similarly to the first payment notification, I had to log-in to download this second one but, unfortunately, the account didn’t work anymore. On October 12th, I wrote another email to notify this new problem. Five days later, the enrollment office told me that they’d fixed it and to try again. I was able to log-in but I was not able to find the sections of my reserved area where I should have found the new payment notification. I had to send another email. A couple of days later, on October 19th, the office sent me a direct link which allowed overcoming the issue and downloading the PDF document. I printed it and I went again to the cigarette store. Again, I paid the commission to complete the payment. Please note that in this case, the commission was 12.5% of the amount …

Four days later, I received the official email communicating that the enrollment process completed successfully and that I was a student at the University of Venice. I was assigned a brand new registration number which also represents the username of the definitive account to use for the regular activities (for example to download the studying material uploaded by the professors such as the slides they use during the classes). I was also assigned a new email account to communicate with the university. As soon as possible, I tried to download the material regarding the first exam that I am going to take. Unfortunately, this material is available on a different website that is implemented with moodle, a “Learning Platform or course management system (CMS)“. To get the material I was interested in, a new code was required. Guess what, I never received that code. By using the official email account, I then wrote another email to ask where to get this code. Two days later, on October 30th, the office I wrote to told me that I had to ask the professor for this code. So I wrote the teacher an email, taking the opportunity to introduce myself as I had never met her. She was so kind to answer me very quickly, providing the code. On October 31st, more than one month after starting the process, I was finally able to start studying for the first exam! I’m starting to feel that passing it will be a piece of cake compared to the enrollment process …


Notes

Featured image sources:

[1]
The social media are a relevant part of this space.

[2]
For those who are interested, these are the exams I chose to take:

They are part of the Data Science course.