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advantages of dematerialization

Printed vs digital documents – The advantages of dematerialization

Digital transformation is perhaps the most decisive issue of our time. It has had a huge impact on our lives, on the very structure of our societies, one could even say on how we think, our way of being in the world, for both the private and the public.

Companies in all sectors have been radically transformed by the advent of digital technology. Thanks to this revolution, the world production system has changed profoundly and it is continuing to change. Perhaps because we are facing one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of mankind.

This wave, obviously, has also impacted many areas of the Public Administration, a sector that – especially in Italy – has traditionally been slow to react to change. While a lot of progress has been made, much remains to be done. Before long, the archives of paper documents will be a distant memory of an ancient and outdated world.

There are two keywords that mark this era: digitization and – above all – dematerialization. The latter concept goes beyond the simple digital transformation of a paper document. In fact, a correctly dematerialized document assumes a complete legal and evidentiary value. Only in this way can it completely replace the old paper documents, which in this case can be considered (and only in this case) completely eliminated.

The differences between digitization and dematerialization have been discussed in detail in this previous post. In this post, we want to focus on the rules for proper dematerialization and the advantages that a digital document has over its paper counterparts.

First, however, let’s take a quick look at the history of digitization in the Italian Public Administration. The first date on our timeline is March 7, 2005.

 

The digitization of the Public Administration from 2005 to today

March 7, 2005 is the date that Legislative Decree no. 82 was drafted. This legislation came into force in 2006, and it is notable because it sanctioned the birth of the so-called Digital Administration Code (CAD).

Starting from this Code, all documents of legal relevance can no longer be made on traditional paper, but, finally, also on the computer.
In this regard, art. 42 of the CAD (entitled “Dematerialization of Public Administration documents”) states that Public administrations shall evaluate, in terms of a cost/benefit ratio, the recovery of documents and paper documents whose preservation is obligatory or appropriate and shall make plans to replace paper archives with electronic ones.

Since 2006, the CAD has been the subject of 29 updates; the most recent and significant update is Legislative Decree of December 13, 2017, no. 217 (here is the full text).

Another decisive acceleration to the digitization of the Public Administration took place through the gradual introduction of the electronic invoicing obligation (see this post on electronic invoicing in 2019 here): in just six months, in 2019, almost one billion data were transmitted to the tax authorities (source).

While the engine has started, there are still many inefficiencies. According to the DESI report on the state of digitization, updated in May 2018, Italy ranks fourth among European countries, ahead only of Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania, and far from leading countries like the United Kingdom, France, and Germany (source).

Moving ahead will require political will, but progress can also be made within industry. This is because the advantages of digitization, even in the field of document archiving, are enormous.

Rather than going it alone, companies need the support of specialized companies such as Doxee, which has decades of know-how on the digitization of dematerialization. Doxee works with many public administrations, and – since 2005 – with telecommunications giant Fastweb, which has entrusted it with the dematerialization of business processes and its Customer Communication department.

 

The rules of dematerialization

If relying on specialized companies is essential to reap the benefits from an intelligent and effective dematerialization, avoiding errors that can have complex legal consequences is equally important.

The rules and requirements for the production of computer copies from analog documents are established by Article 22 of the Digital Administration Code. It establishes:

1. Computer documents containing copies of public documents, private writings, and documents in general, including administrative documents of any kind originally drawn up on an analog medium, sent or issued by authorized public depositories and public officials, shall be fully effective, pursuant to Articles 2714 and 2715 of the Italian Civil Code, if they are drawn up pursuant to the first sentence of Article 20(1)(a) (for which see here, ed.). Their exhibition and production replaces that of the original.
1a. The digital copy of an analog document is produced by processes and tools that ensure that the digital document has the same content and form as the analog document from which it is taken, after comparison of the documents or by means of a certified process in cases where techniques are adopted that can guarantee that the form and content of the original and the copy correspond.

2. Digital image copies of original documents originally made on an analog medium shall have the same evidentiary effect as the originals from which they were taken, if their conformity is attested by a notary public or other authorized public officer, in accordance with the Guidelines.

3. Digital image copies of original documents originally made on an analog medium in accordance with the Guidelines shall have the same evidentiary effect as the originals from which they were taken if their conformity with the original is not expressly unknown.

4. Copies made pursuant to paragraphs 1, 1bis, 2 and 3 replace, for all legal purposes, the originals originally made on an analog medium, and are suitable for fulfilling the preservation obligations provided for by law, except as established in paragraph 5.

5. By decree of the President of the Council of Ministers, particular types of unique original analog documents may be identified, which, for reasons of publicity requirements, the obligation to preserve the analog original remains or, in the case of a preserved substitute, their conformity to the original must be authenticated by a notary public or other public official authorized to do so by means of a declaration digitally signed by the latter and attached to the electronic document.

[6. Until the date of issue of the decree referred to in paragraph 5, all unique original analog documents shall remain subject to the obligation to preserve the analog original or, in the case of replacement preservation, their conformity to the original shall be authenticated by a notary public or other public official authorized to do so by means of a declaration digitally signed by the latter and attached to the electronic document.]

It’s no easy to navigate in this framework without the help of partners who can ensure that mistakes aren’t made; and who are attentive to legislative updates (which, in recent years, have evolved rapidly). As we have anticipated, relying on specialized companies allows us to take full advantage of all the possible benefits of transforming an analog archive into a digitized and dematerialized one.

 

Advantages of the digital document

First of all, there are financial advantages of moving to dematerialization. Storing large volumes of paper takes up space, which translates into operating costs and, sometimes, personnel costs.

Then there is the aspect of efficiency when it comes to finding information: locating the documents you need in a mountain of paper isn’t easy. Imagine the difficulty of searching for a specific piece of information within a single document! In the digital world, these problems cease to exist: it is possible to carry out effective, targeted, and almost instantaneous search. Of course, this is if you have dematerialized your archive in an intelligent and efficient way.

Moreover, with digital technology, the risks of loss, wear and tear, and input errors are drastically reduced.

Then there is the fundamental aspect of sharing entire documents or parts of them. In a digital environment, everything is simple and immediate. In an analog environment, however, the process itself is slow, cumbersome and full of risks (which must, however, be given the utmost attention, even with dematerialization, investing heavily in cybersecurity).

We must not forget the aspect of transparency. And, above all, the possibility of exploiting one’s own documentary archive at different levels, which were previously unthinkable. Think of everything that can be triggered by careful analysis of big data, or – even more so – of what we now define as “smart data” or “deep data,” and most documents and repositories are full of both.

There are many more advantages, and the future, in this sense, may open up new and unprecedented possibilities.
Everything, however, starts from the beginning: the more you organize your digital archive, the more you do it in a way that is both ”customized” and “intelligent,” the more those benefits, for both present and future, multiply.

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