Dematerialization allows companies to “create more with less,” leading to increased value and reduced resource consumption. This statement is all the more true in a sector like energy and utilities, where the theme of improving economic performance inevitably goes hand in hand with those of environmental protection and attention to the consumer.
The companies that were the first to start dematerialization projects as part of their digital transformation are already making undeniable progress compared to those who moved more slowly. This is not only in terms of eco-sustainability, but also in terms of profitability, innovation, and a readiness to respond to the needs of a world destined to become increasingly “dematerialized.“
But let’s start at the beginning: from the meaning of dematerialization and its relationship with digitization.
What’s the difference between dematerialization and digitization?
We have been talking about dematerialization and the best way to use it to improve customer communication for some time now. Here, we’ll just recall some useful definitions that will help frame the theme in the context where utility companies operate.
First, what is dematerialization and why is it important to distinguish it from digitization? If by dematerialization we mean the process by which we convert a paper document into an electronic one while maintaining its legal and evidentiary value, digitization is the production of original documents directly in digital form: a systemic phenomenon rather than a procedure that is capable of paving the way for modern infrastructures and innovative communications.
This is probably where the substantial difference between the two processes lies: digitization in the utilities sector is not so much a technological phenomenon as it is a change in business perspective that aims to put the customer back at the center of communication.
Dematerialization, therefore, replaces paper documents with digital documents which, and this happens in the vast majority of cases, are then stored directly in that format. The final document resulting from dematerialization, in order to be considered equivalent to its analog copy, must have the same legal requirements – with respect to a reference regulation – of the original paper document. In other words, dematerialization is the procedure that leads to the digital storage of a document with legal value. Specifically, according to agendadigitale.eu, the digital document produced by dematerialization:
- maintains the legal, archival, and evidentiary value of the analog document of which it is a copy,
- contains all the elements of the archival context of reference (it must therefore be archived in the computer system, including all metadata necessary for its classification),
- it allows the original paper document of which it is a copy to be discarded (i.e. eliminated).
Let’s start to understand why, considering its legal and evidentiary dimension, dematerialization is a central process within the utility sector, which, due to the public nature of the products and services it offers, is subject to continuous control by the institutions.
Dematerialized archives: The starting point for digital transformation
Information and communication technology experts interviewed by Ericsson (ericsson.com) in its report, The dematerialization path to profitability and sustainability – The future of enterprises, (published February 2021) agree that dematerialized enterprises will be the norm by 2030 because they are better able to adapt to evolving customer needs.
In addition, 68% of these IT decision makers say they believe data analysis and data mining will be critical to the success of utility companies.
Advanced data management is essential for companies to leverage their accumulated knowledge to experiment, extract useful insights, and make appropriate decisions to continuously optimize products and services.
Dematerialization will gradually contribute to the creation and enrichment of increasingly complete and structured digital archives. In the near future, companies that have already implemented dematerialization initiatives will be able to exploit these archives in synergy with the most advanced technologies, such as the cloud, artificial intelligence, and mobile devices. In a digital archive, documents are made available in a form that allows careful, accurate, and circumstantial analysis and interpretation:
The advantages of dematerialization: An indispensable starting point
Every day, utility companies find themselves having to govern an enormous and chaotic mass of data:
- “technical” data transmitted from various equipment and network control points
- data connected to a huge number of contacts and contracts,
- data coming from smart meters that record the consumption trend of every single user in real time,
- data collected on the different touch points prepared to intercept habits and preferences.
A dematerialized archive in which to store all this data is therefore the indispensable basis from which to deploy the potential of digital transformation, which is constantly evolving and still largely unexplored.
While this is certainly an incredible advantage that dematerialization offers to utilities, and which opens up futuristic scenarios whose scope we are now beginning to realize – it is only the first of many.
1. Better customer communication
The kind of archive of dematerialized and digital documents that we have just described can be exploited at different levels, with a depth and articulation that was inconceivable until now. However, the operations to extract value from this gigantic mass of data are by no means trivial. To carry them out in the most correct way, from the very first stages of dematerialization, it is necessary to turn to specialized partners such as Doxee.
In fact, Doxee has all the experience and skills needed to capitalize on the value of this immense wealth of information and is also able to use it to implement those additional business actions that are becoming increasingly important, especially in the utility sector:
- to develop data-driven marketing actions,
- improve Customer Communication and Customer Care services.
A more accurate and extensive knowledge of one’s own audience of users, clients, and collaborators is indispensable for succeeding in dividing an otherwise indistinct mass into specific targets, segments and clusters in order to design personalized customer experiences and improve customer communication.
2. More flexible working models
Dematerialization seems to be the key to adopting more flexible working models that are more in line with a greater work-life balance: the most dematerialized companies seem better equipped, both in terms of technological tools and at the level of shared institutional culture, in adopting cloud and mobile to become more agile;
Dematerializing also means making it possible – and tempting, for both organizations and workers – to work remotely. The pandemic has accelerated the spread of smart working to an extent that is still difficult to quantify, but it seems clear that companies can no longer return – not entirely, at least – to a traditional model of working in an office.
Hence, the need to provide employees with full access to documents, processes, and tools, regardless of the device they use or where they are. Smart working, among other things, would seem to increase productivity, at least according to the Marketers State of Remote Working 2021 study, which shows that 80% of respondents believe they are more productive, stating that they work more than 40 hours per week in 37% of cases (Source: adnkronos).
3. More sustainability
Let’s go back to the Ericsson report cited above: nearly three out of four businesses expect their electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030, and if choosing “clean energy” is an exceptional driver of change for all digitized businesses, in the case of organizations dealing with light, water, gas, and waste, it’s an imperative. Digital technologies – and dematerialization among them is something of an inaugural step – have the potential to reduce the need for physical materials, replacing them with digital services and products.
Among the benefits of dematerialization in the utility sector we can also find reduced commuting and the consequent decrease in CO2 emissions. These are benefits that derive from the shift to a systematic dematerialization of business documents, which by decreasing the use of material through dematerialization enables the possibility of remote working.
4. Saving money and time, easier sharing
By switching from paper to digital, you can avoid using (and often wasting) a huge amount of paper. Quite simply, printed documents take up a lot of space, with management and personnel costs that can be very high. Not to mention the time wasted searching for a particular file among the folders of “analog” archives or for a specific piece of information in a single paper document…
With digital, these problems simply do not exist anymore: it is possible to carry out effective, targeted, and almost instantaneous searches and it is also extremely easy and fast to share documents (in part or in full). Provided that you have dematerialized your archives in an intelligent and efficient way. Moreover, with digital technology, the risks of loss, wear and tear, and compilation errors are drastically reduced.
The advantages of dematerialization for utilities translate into a strong economic and time savings, therefore in greater efficiency, with a positive and immediate impact in terms of productivity and marginality.
Let’s see now, in two successful examples of how dematerialization has been the foundation for digital transformation, contributing to make communications that until now have been perceived as boring and inappropriate, such as invoices, bills, and administrative documents interesting and pleasant – and therefore able to capture the attention of customers.
Doxee document experience and Doxee paperless experience for the optimal management of all document production
Sorgenia is the first Italian Digital Energy Company, with about 400,000 customers throughout the country.
When it needed a single product dedicated to Customer Communications Management, Sorgenia turned to Doxee. The goal was to achieve optimal management of their document production from start to finish: from electronic invoicing processes (active and passive cycle) to legally compliant digital storage services, always remaining perfectly in line with the principles of the regulations in force.
Sorgenia chose two products that would enable it to achieve the desired results, both based on a proprietary technology platform, the Doxee Platform®, designed and built entirely in the cloud:
- Doxee document experience: the first Customer Communications Management product entirely in the cloud, both in PaaS and SaaS, and dedicated to the creation, multichannel distribution, and archiving of communications;
- Doxee paperless experience: the product line that responds to the need for dematerialization of tax and document processes, ensuring compliance with Italian and European regulations for optimal and fully outsourced management of electronic invoicing and digital storage processes.
Through the integrated functions of the Doxee Platform®, which guarantee high performance in terms of scalability, reliability, and computational capacity, Sorgenia has found the solution to successfully combine the need to rely on effective, fast, and monitorable processes, and thus enables a very short time-to-market on a global scale, with the need to produce and store documents that are fully valid an evidential point of view and in terms of compliance with regulations.
Fastweb and Doxee: paperless invoices become communication channels
Fastweb – a leading telecommunications company – has been distributing invoices and statements to users through digital channels since 2005, specifically email and certified electronic mail (PEC). To make it possible to send bills and to manage the subsequent digital storage – always in strict compliance with current regulations – there is Doxee, which since 2009 has expanded its collaboration to manage the entire Customer Communication process of Fastweb.
Starting from an efficient and orderly dematerialization, Doxee has radically re-designed and re-engineered the invoice creation flow according to the customer profile, making it viewable and navigable through the dynamic and interactive interfaces of the Doxee Pweb line:
- a dedicated mini-website that each customer could access their personal data and data related to their account, billing period, amount, consumption, deadlines, and payment method with their own credentials, also in offline mode.
- a personalized video that accompanies the invoice email. The user who watches the video is immersed in an engaging 360-degree experience and is invited to perform different actions depending on their level of involvement (access or subscription to the customer area and other initiatives) and different “talking” calls-to-action.
In the case of the personalized video, the user is totally immersed in the process of creating the story, so much so that he feels naturally led towards the action to which he is invited to participate.
Excellent. Thanks to dematerialization, Fastweb has been able to eliminate the complex and costly method of paper storage, replacing the physical warehouse and thus achieving significant cost savings. In addition, the number of customers active on digital channels has grown from 40% to over 85%, with a considerable increase in new subscribers, a significant improvement in the loyalty rate, and a corresponding lowering of the churn rate. Ninety-five percent of invoices are now viewed in digital format, and the Doxee Pweb® open rating is around 90 %, for almost total coverage.
The cases of Sorgenia-Doxee and Fastweb-Doxee represent practical examples of the concrete advantages of dematerialization for utility companies, not only in terms of significant economic savings and an immediate impact on revenue and turnover, but also in the perspective of subsequent initiatives through which to establish a dialog with users that will last over time.