Dematerialization is a growing trend that promises savings, but also the simplification of processes and increased efficiency. However, this is not enough: dematerialization must be included in a wider context in order to fully exploit its potential, as an Italian municipality has recently done.
In recent news, the social network giant Facebook will soon launch a fully digital currency: it’s called Libra (ilsole24ore.com). Libra is a cryptocurrency that works on the basis of a blockchain platform whose nodes of validation will be the participants of the association of founding members, the Libra Association. It brings together members of different sectors: from the financial sector (Mastercard, Visa, Paypal) to the telco sector (Vodafone and Iliad) and companies born of the digital revolution (Uber, Spotify, eBay, and Booking, among others).
The objective of this new project is ambitious and can have a disruptive effect on the global economy, because for the first time, the world of the internet opens up completely and definitively to money, which is one of the areas touched only marginally by the digital revolution. Moreover, the introduction of this technology will make it possible to extend many financial services to those who were previously excluded from them. A digital wallet is expected to be activated by 2020, which will be accessible directly from Messenger, Whatsapp, or even from a dedicated app and which will allow direct payment through one of these platforms.
What does this news have to do with dematerialization in the Public Administration? Facebook’s decision shows that dematerialization is an unstoppable trend that has affects all areas of society, from the private to the public sector, both of which share in the benefits.
For this reason, the Italian Public Administration must complete the processes of dematerialization, and more generally, digitalization, as soon as possible so as to be able to become more efficient and competitive and to keep pace with most Italian companies, which are investing more and more in digital technologies and dematerialization.
However, before we look at the benefits, we’ll start by providing a definition. In general, when we talk about dematerialization, we mean the process that consists of the creation of documents in digital format, with the main purpose of replacing and completely eliminating paper. This definition also applies to the Public Administration, but we must first add an element. In the PA, dematerialization is the process of converting a paper document into an IT document in such a way that it preserves both the probative and legal value and elements relating to the archival context of reference.
Therefore, in addition to the elimination of paper documents, there is the need for them to have the same legal, evidential and archival value. This is where digitization should be distinguished, as it directly concerns the processes of management and preservation of electronic documents and involves the way that citizens approach online services.
In light of this definition, we can say that dematerialization is the functional premise for digitization since the latter involves a real “re-engineering” of the Public Administration involving computer documents.
The 4 advantages of dematerializing the Public Administration
Having clarified the meaning of the term, it is easier to understand how the Italian Public Administration could benefit from it.
First benefit: Considerable savings
The elimination of paper documents leads first of all to significant financial savings. Research carried out by the Observatory of Electronic Invoicing and Dematerialization from the School of Management of the Politecnico di Milano has shown that the dematerialization of internal processes can lead to savings of about €40 billion.
Broken down, that includes €4 billion per year in savings on purchase prices and process costs in PA procurement alone; €15 billion per year linked to increased staff productivity; and €24 billion per year in savings of “relationship costs” between PA and businesses, thanks to a reduction in bureaucracy.
Moreover, the possible savings would also extend to the amount of resources that the Public Administration consumes annually. For example, the data is impressive even if we just limited ourselves to the paper that you could avoid. According to estimates presented at the 2016 PA Forum, the paper saved from dematerialization would be a stack 812 kilometers high, one that could easily reach the earth’s exosphere.
Beyond the statistics, what emerges is that a more dematerialized Public Administration is also more eco-sustainable because it would reduce the environmental impact of processes, which would no longer require a high (and sometimes useless) use of raw materials.
Second benefit: simplification of processes
Dematerializing the Public Administration would necessarily mean simplifying internal PA processes, which would also become more effective. An example is the collaboration carried out by the Association of Officials of Civil Status and Registry, the National Transplant Center and the State Printing and Mint Institute with Doxee for the communication to citizens regarding the obligation to renew the identity card.
Instead of using traditional communication—paper—these administrations have chosen an innovative tool, Doxee PVideo®, the platform for personalized and interactive videos with which it is possible to convey content in an effective and completely digital way. In this way, citizens received a perfectly personalized video, which, on the basis of the data available, contained the name, number, and expiration date of the recipient’s ID card. Adoption of this innovative system had some significant results.
First of all, the communication was made more enticing, also because it was made to be mobile-friendly, therefore perfectly adapted to citizens’ consumption habits. Secondly, the whole process of document renewal is made more immediate and citizen-friendly. These videos not only contained all the necessary information, but they also allowed the citizen to perform certain actions quickly and easily, without having to log in to the secondary landing page.
Dematerializing processes like this rely on the experience of a company like Doxee, and allow the Public Administration to greatly limit postal expenses, eliminate the use of paper, and has increased the effectiveness of service communication, since the video was seen in full by 91% of recipients, 31% of whom requested an appointment using the video. Another benefit involves electronic invoicing. According to data from the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the revenue service (Agenzia delle Entrate), 350 million electronic invoices have been recorded by 2.7 million professionals in the context of B2B transactions, for a total taxable income of €560 million.
As far as invoicing to the Public Administration is concerned, 28.5 million invoices were handled, involving a total of 25,000 administrations. This innovation has also had a positive impact on revenue from the Revenue Agency’s 2018 tax controls, which have increased by about 11%. It’s also effective in the fight against tax evasion. Thanks to the dematerialization and digitalization of the invoice, it was possible to block €668 million worth of false VAT credits through risk analysis based on e-bills and on invoice portal data.
Third benefit: better archiving
All documents must be kept, whether in paper or electronic form. Obviously, this is true even if the electronic document is not born as such but is subsequently dematerialized. In the latter case, as established by art. 44 paragraph 1ter of the Digital Administration Code, archival requires adopting a series of measures that preserve the characteristics of authenticity, integrity, reliability, legibility, availability. Therefore, electronic storage must be able to preserve the documents as they were originally recorded (bit preservation) and also allow future consultation, understanding, and use of the contents of electronic documents (logical preservation).
In light of this, if dematerialization is properly carried out, it has the enormous advantage of allowing the preservation of documents without the risk that time or neglect will fundamentally change it in some way. Moreover, preservation can be integrated with digital archiving methods that make it easier to find the document itself. Also, let’s not forget that even from a financial point of view it is worthwhile: thanks to dematerialization there is no longer the need to use physical archives and this offers savings in terms of rent and management, freeing up resources that can be used in other ways.
Fourth benefit: a paradigm shift
Another significant benefit of the dematerialization of the Public Administration is to force a radical paradigm change in terms of administrative services. If before the document was at the center of interest, dematerialization requires the PA to put the citizen at the center of things.
What does that mean? It primarily means that dematerialization requires administrations to rethink how they function in order to address new habits of citizens. For example, it is precisely from the elimination of paper that we can undertake the transformation process that makes some services accessible through mobile devices wherever citizens are, without having to physically go to an office.
Again: by starting from dematerialization, we can make sure that the digital architecture of the Public Administration is oriented by data, so that documents are archived not only according to legal requirements but also according to an organizational system that makes the search easier and more intuitive. Dematerializing the Public Administration also means allowing citizens to have access to public services at any time, 24 hours a day, guaranteeing them absolute autonomy.
It is worth noting, in conclusion, that this paradigm shift doesn’t just benefit citizens. A PA capable of ensuring all of the above advantages can, in fact, improve its relationship with the citizen, eliminating the sense of frustration and mistrust typical of when interfacing with the bureaucracy. Dematerialization is, therefore, the basis for positively changing how citizens perceive public services, which can finally get closer to citizens, demonstrating that their needs and requirements are relevant and must be listened to.
Dematerialization is only the beginning
It is clear that dematerialization offers considerable benefits both for the Public Administration and for citizens. But it’s not enough. Dematerialization is only the first step in building a country that is truly capable of managing and exploiting digitalization in the best possible way. It is necessary to provide additional solutions that encourage abandoning paper and also allow reorganization of the entire administrative machine.
A recent example was the municipality of Bologna (agendadigitale.eu), which in 2012 began a process aimed at building an organization capable of stimulating the participation of citizens and the delivery of public services. This was possible thanks to the adoption of a process called COS (Conference of Organization of Services), which allowed the administration to open itself up to projects and proposals for innovation that have contributed to the dissemination of electronic documents and the dematerialization of administrative procedures.
This was followed by the development of an interoperable document management platform that was designed to support the training, archiving, and storage of electronic documents in a manner compatible with external storage systems and to facilitate the integration of systems for verification of electronic signatures, protocol, and process management.
In this way, dematerialization has been placed in a context of wider innovation that has led to the harmonious simplification of administrative processes and an increase in PA productivity without affecting service continuity.
So this is what Italy needs to carry out the definitive digital transformation of the Public Administration: obviously dematerialisation, but also ambitious projects, collaboration and coordination between public operators and professionals in the sector, innovative structural solutions, and above all, a broader vision, capable of efficiently reorganizing the entire administrative process, combining the needs of the citizen with the regulatory requirements and management efficiency.
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