Digital Transformation for Business: takeaways from “Digitalizzare per (r)esistere,” the event from the Osservatorio Digital B2B  

Digital transformation for business is taking on an even greater importance for businesses in the face of Covid-19. On June 16, the Final Conference of the Polytechnic University of Milan’s Osservatorio Digital B2B was held around the theme of “Digitizing to Resist.”

Doxee has been a sponsor of this Observatory for several years and, as in previous years, has contributed to the evolution of important processes that are increasingly pushing the acceleration of digital transformation for business for services such as electronic invoicing, electronic ordering, dematerialization, and legally compliant digital archiving, just to name a few. Doxee also participated in this year’s event, both to listen and also to share our first-hand experience of how companies have responded to the Covid-19 emergency, how they have resisted a tsunami, one that was both unexpected (in some ways) and disruptive. 

Because we work closely with our customers, we were also able to see just how digitization has really served as a sort of vaccine to support companies in resisting the effects of the virus, which, has impacted all of us not only from a health perspective, but also on a social, educational, economic, and cultural level. 

The conference perfectly recounted the coronavirus emergency and its impact on the business world. We heard from companies who wanted to know how to organize themselves internally and from those who were able to plan their activities and their production to meet the demand for emergency equipment (medical supplies, health, basic necessities, etc.). And, it was very nice to hear the representatives of these companies say, in unison, that this has been a unique experience, especially when everyone has tried their best to respond to requests for help.

 

Digital transformation for business and business continuity: the power of data 

Almost immediately, the Covid-19 emergency triggered the “call” to digital for basic functions such as ensuring business continuity for processes and financial transactions. For example, companies introduced smart working and also activated digital monitoring tools for executing processes. They also strengthened their e-commerce systems—throughout the supply chain—and simplified processes for dematerialization and contract signing. All of this was done with the goal of significantly enhancing collaboration and integration at the supply chain level.

However, if we want to go even deeper, then perhaps one of the most important aspects that emerged during the conference was the ability to make the most of the power of data. Many companies immediately understood the importance of knowing how to use supplier, production, and customer data for a range of processes: for supply management policies during the purchasing cycle, for warehouse optimization, product portfolio differentiation and production remodulation, for forecasting changes in demand, and for organizing new sales/distribution channels.

 

Electronic invoice data

Doxee also wanted to make a contribution, based on its experience of managing several billion documents, including hundreds of millions of electronic invoices, every year. We wanted to emphasize how a document, a file as “simple” as the invoice is actually an important and complex set of data that reveals choices, needs, behaviors. Therefore, the extraction and enhancement of this data becomes an indispensable process, one that is increasingly strategic in achieving the positioning objectives of companies and products, in the management of corporate cash flows, but also, especially in the case of B2C, in interactive and personalized communication processes with end consumers.

 

Simplifying digital transformation for business

While companies have better understood and improved their use of data, Covid-19 also highlighted a virtuous application, proving that we can also learn from emergency situations for the future of Italy. 

In this specific case, through simplification.

As was well illustrated during the conference, in this emergency period and the related lockdown, the need for simplification through digital has emerged, with great urgency. In Italy, several initiatives to simplify regulations have been introduced for processes such as banking contracts (to simplify the processes for signing documents and for giving consent) or civil proceedings (simplifying signing the power of attorney), with the objective of streamlining and simplifying bureaucratic procedures for interfacing between companies and customers and between public administrations and citizens.

The forced recourse to simplification is, however, also an indication of other significant aspects: the digital processes and IT tools used until a few months ago (in the “pre-Covid” era) were rigid, and sometimes related to a tendency to require more formal guarantees in the digital environment than what was done with analog

That said, the cue for the short term future could therefore be to continue on the path of digital simplification, taking advantage of this experience, focusing on some fundamental elements, such as the use of existing rules, the removal of cultural barriers, the reduction of complex procedures, and the focus on functional approaches.

 

Already digitized processes make a difference now 

The conference confirmed what many have understood in the last 18 months, starting with the introduction of the electronic invoicing obligation in Italy: organizations with well-structured digital processes have more easily created the conditions for working remotely and have been able to deal with the emergency both effectively and efficiently. 

A year and a half of experience e-Invoicing is a nice “curriculum” because it has helped organizations learn and has led to the increasing use of formats, data, and processes that are completely dematerialized and digital, and therefore readily adaptable to the emergency situation, without requiring further intervention and therefore no additional costs.

The Observatory’s research data confirmed the volumes exchanged in Italy in the first year of the obligation: over 2 billion electronic invoices. It is very interesting at this point to link these volumes to what was mentioned by the Director of the Agenzia delle Entrate (Italy’s Internal Revenue Agency), just a few days ago, during his hearing in the Finance Commission, at the Chamber. Director Ruffini recalled that the trend, albeit with some decline due to the Covid-19 emergency, remains positive in 2020, with about 770 million electronic invoices exchanged in the first 5 months of the year. Above all, he stressed that electronic invoicing has produced positive effects for €3.5 billion, including VAT revenues, the fight against tax fraud, and the impact on direct taxes, concluding with an optimistic outlook: “I believe,” Ruffini said, “if they succeed in closing the perimeter of technological innovation, data interoperability, the transmission of data, the valorization of this information patrimony by the financial administration, protecting all the rights of the citizens, the Parliament and the Government can accept the challenge of halving tax evasion within five years.”

It is true, we are still talking about a specific area in which digitization has come down to regulatory interventions, but it is also true that the final result is visible to all and is shared by all stakeholders. And it should not be forgotten that it’s not only essential processes that have been guaranteed and improved, the same applies also to smaller businesses that are not typically digital. 

We can perhaps say that electronic invoicing has been the point of departure  for continuing the process of digitization.

However, there is still a long way to go. This is demonstrated by the data published on the updated index of DESI, (The Digital Economy and Society Index) which certifies a “downgrading” of Italy, which has fallen to third from last place among the 28 EU member states. Beyond the rankings, there are still many gaps to be filled and steps to be taken, starting with the training of human resources and overall digital skills; the Covid-19 emergency has perhaps also contributed to this.

In conclusion, what is the path forward?

Thanks to the Osservatorio’s final report, we can take away some important conclusions, which should actually spur us to continue vigorously along certain paths.

This includes continuing along the path of digitizing processes (and not only documents), with a functional approach. In fact, work will be needed to make the various parts of the process more and more digital, where digital transformation or the dematerialization of documents is only just one of many steps. From this point of view, it will be fundamental to further push the accelerator on Electronic Ordering (NSO) and on the management of electronic DDT, the next fundamental steps for the entire Italian country system.

Finally, it is necessary to think of digital transformation for business not (or not only) as something to be regulated at all costs; after all, the Covid-19 emergency has also taught us that the simplification of certain procedures is not only the result of the emergency, but is also born of a need to clear the field of bureaucratic obstacles that are overwhelming and probably the result of redundant regulatory requirements that no longer make sense today.