The Italian food industry has now recognized that in order to maintain its high levels of excellence, it must also equip itself with efficient document processing and archiving processes. To do so, there are no alternatives: digitization is the only answer, as demonstrated by two entirely Italian examples.
The food industry is undoubtedly one of the most important sectors of Italy’s economy. Italy is not only a country rich in history and tradition, but it is also a territory endowed with incredible biodiversity, which makes each region a unique selection of products that are sought after all over the world. This is in addition to the great ability of the Italian food chain to enrich and enhance these products and also thanks to the country’s ability to transform excellent raw materials into high-quality finished products.
This is all to emphasize that when we talk about the Italian food industry we are talking about an industry of absolute excellence, as evidenced by data which shows constant growth that has only partially slowed down by the global health crisis.
Aside from the effects of COVID-19, a survey by Food Industry Monitor carried out last year showed that for the two-year period of 2019-2020 there were largely positive forecasts for the entire food industry, according to which the aggregate turnover would be €63 billion, distributed among 15 food industry sectors. Add to this the fact that the value of the entire sector is growing at an average of 3.1% per year and that even in a year as complicated as this one, the food industry has managed to react positively to the difficulties, even showing growth, albeit small, of exports of Italian food products (foodcommunity.it).
What lies behind the growth of the food industry and what lies ahead
The reasons for these resounding results have already been amply listed in the lines above: the very high selection and choice of raw materials, the craftsmanship with which these materials are made and transformed, the age-old tradition that enriches agrifood products with a charm that increases their consideration among buyers. If this is what lies behind the exceptional results of the food sector in Italy, it is legitimate to ask what lies ahead, or rather, what are the main challenges that the sector must face in order to remain at the same level of growth and competitiveness.
On the other hand, digital transformation has already entered many other sectors of our economy and has changed everything, revolutionizing processes, strategies, and approaches to business. In a certain sense, it is inevitable that this will also happen in the food industry, which is one of the most important in the country. Among other things, digital solutions have the characteristic of being extremely versatile and able to bring improvements to many different areas of the same company.
While the other aspects will be discussed in more detail on our blog, in this post, we want to show the significant impact that digitization has on a specific functional area of the company, one that typically doesn’t receive much attention: document management.
The focus: between food safety and document processing and storage
“Document management” is the set of processes that relate to the proper administration of a document throughout its lifecycle, from its point of origin to its storage. These types of processes are of fundamental importance when talking about the food industry, since every operator in the sector must guarantee the safety and a certain standard of quality for their products.
Among other things, since the 90s, international organizations have been dealing with an increasing attention on the issue of “food safety,” a term that indicates the practices, rules, and standards aimed at ensuring that food is always treated and consumed in a healthy, hygienic, and risk-free way.
It is precisely in the light of this attention to “food safety” that several national and supranational regulations have been issued over the years, including the EC Regulation No. 178/2002 of the European Parliament and the European Council or the so-called “Hygiene Package,” which came into force from January 1, 2006 in all the member countries of the European Union.
A fundamental principle underlying the entire regulation and the company procedures that must implement it is the need to transmit information in a transparent, complete, and reliable manner. Food companies, in fact, must ensure the traceability of their products, allowing the end user to retrace the path of what he consumes. It is no coincidence that this legislation applies to all stages of the food chain, from production to transport, destruction to consumption, since each of these steps affects the quality of the products you consume.
No safety without document processing and archiving
In order to achieve this type of security, one of the fundamental requirements is to have an efficient and reliable documentation system, also because it is only through documents that one can keep track of what is received, produced, and consumed. Moreover, this is exactly what is required by current legislation, according to which each food company must identify its products by means of specific documentation, indicating among other things the phases in which certain risks may occur as well as the corresponding prevention/control/intervention measures that can be adopted in case of problems.
But of course, it is not enough just to create clear and comprehensive documents, what is also needed is that these documents are easily available and, therefore, kept in a place or in a way that guarantees their traceability and ensures they are able to be consulted when needed by operators. In this sense, both processing and archiving are important and contribute in the same way to guarantee the “food safety” that we mentioned above.
Among other things, the importance of these areas of business operations is such that a professional role is beginning to have a much higher profile. This is the food safety manager, who is responsible for communicating with different operational areas (legal, marketing, administration, distribution), ensuring that each functions correctly, also thanks to an efficient document communication system.
There is no document management without digitization
Interestingly, this professional figure not only demonstrates that document management has become a key factor in the operation of any company in the food industry, but also shows that this area of operation has changed over the years. In fact, anyone who wants to become a food safety manager is required to have specific digital skills in order to be able to process, manage, and eventually archive documents through dedicated software. This is because document management is becoming increasingly digitized and automated, thanks to the technological solutions made available by digital transformation.
Moreover, food safety and digital innovation are increasingly going hand in hand, given that companies in the food industry have long since begun to digitize a large part of their internal processes.
One example is Blockchain, which provides operators with a secure and reliable network for exchanging and storing data where any changes can be traced backwards, thus making it possible to track any errors and inconsistencies. Or even Big Data Analytics software, which allows you to easily analyze a large amount of data both internal and external to the company, always with the goal of tracking all the operations being carried out.
Among other things, in Italy, the digitization of all document processes is a trend that is also being encouraged thanks to some key interventions by AGID, the Agency for Digital Italy.
Innovation travels with new guidelines
Recently, AGID issued its new guidelines on the formation, management, and storage of electronic documents, which aim to renew the current rules on the subject, and which will become applicable from June 7, 2021. Without going into the exact content of the document, it should be noted that these guidelines are of fundamental importance because they certify that digital documentation must not only be adopted by the Public Administration, but also by private individuals, precisely because it is only digitalization that can ensure faster, safer, and more efficient procedures.
In addition, digitization is a necessary step toward full automation of document processes, which brings with it significant economic benefits.
In terms of procedures, having digital solutions that handle most of the document management process frees up resources that can be used for other, less repetitive and more value-added tasks (where the risk of human error is not eliminated but at least reduced).
In terms of structures, on the other hand, digitizing means substantially dematerializing, thus eliminating paper from all document processes. This allows companies in the food industry—as well as other sectors—to save money by cutting down on unnecessary physical space and many of the tools that are no longer needed in a digitized document process.
Returning to the AGID Guidelines, it should be added that these provisions underline another fundamental aspect of the digital document, namely that within and around it there must be elements that can ensure its reliability and traceability, regardless of who receives it. Also because this is a substantial issue, especially from the point of view of the responsibility of those involved in the supply chain. Often, in fact, in order to trace the chain of responsibility, the documentary component of the investigation is fundamental, all as always in the name of protecting the final consumer.
One example among many
Although the guidelines will come into effect in about a year’s time, as mentioned above, this does not mean that Italian companies in the food industry have been sitting on their hands. On the contrary, all over the country you can find operators who have already been working for some time to implement various digital solutions.
One of these is Auricchio, the historic cheese-producer, who initiated the digital transformation of its document processes in 2014. After digitizing the procurement phase with mobile terminals, the Cremona-based company began to adopt Electronic Document Management and Electronic Storage solutions for active invoices and the main accounting books and records. This choice has paid off, and not a little, in terms of cost savings and improved process times, reducing the time required.
But that’s not all. Digitization has also been a choice of transparency, since archived documents are available, depending on the profile, to all personnel, who can access them, and also create online folders in which to associate invoices issued with orders and transportation documents. All of this has simplified access to information and has provided valid support in managing disputes that may arise in the course of business. In addition, this choice represents a very strong stance in the area of sustainability, which has never been more important than it is today, as it makes the brand much more attractive to consumers.
Another leading Italian company that has undertaken the digitalization of its document processing and archiving processes is Barilla.
The Emilia-based giant of the Italian food industry has for several years now been engaged in a wide-ranging digitalization process called “Barilla Goes Digital,” which involves various areas of the company, from marketing to governance. In fact, the company noticed that digital transformation represents a tremendous competitive opportunity; as a result it has been embraced and applied to the internal business.
This project also entailed the digitization of documents as a result of the SRM Program (Supplier Relationship Management), which involved Purchasing area processes. This project was primarily developed in two directions. The first was to implement a tool that allows the Purchasing Department to conduct online auctions between suppliers. The second was the digitalization of all documents produced during the purchasing processes.
Also in this case, as in the case of Auricchio, the advantages were not only for the company’s operations, which saw an improvement in performance of the Purchasing Department through a significant reduction in waste, but also for its positioning, since this paperless approach is consistent with one of Barilla’s promises: “Good for You, Good for the Planet.”
This demonstrates that, when the digitization process is done correctly, it is a win-win for the company.
Download the infographic to learn more about the food sector and how it is changing