Two structural features of Italian industry are generally considered as responsible for its "backwardness": i) the large presence of small firms, and the associated lack of large firms; ii) the importance of traditional sectors, and the related weakness of high-tech sectors. These features strikingly differentiate the Italian economy from that of the main industrialized countries. We believe that this comparison, although useful as a first step, is not adequate when trying to understand the problems of our industrial system in order to suggest policy measures. With reference to the size structure of firms we point out the importance of medium sized firms (mostly organized as business groups) and suggest considering them as the main target for research and industrial policy. As for the lack of high-tech sectors we point out the need, when measuring the technological level of firms, for a more complex approach than that based on sector classification. Although not denying the importance of the above mentioned structural features for the competitiveness of the Italian economy, the article calls for a more thorough approach to applied industrial analysis taking into account the specificity of the Italian situation.