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The CFO Interview Series: The Impact of "e-Transformation” Within the Accounting Area
Maximilian Redolfi, head of Page Executive in Italy and consultant within the European CFO practice, interviews Gianpietro Sanavia, Head of Finance (CFO) Italy at CSL Behring Italy - a global leader in the plasma protein biotherapeutics industry, engaged in research, development, manufacturing and marketing of biotherapies that are used to treat serious and rare conditions.
Could you tell us how the recent requirements in regards to e-invoicing , necessary in compliance with Italian new legislation for providers of the public administration, have influenced your company’s operational methods?
One of the changes that we are currently facing in Italy is represented by “e-Transformation” within the accounting area thought ‘ dematerialisation of the documents’, ‘digital documents’ ‘electronic document management’, substitutive storage, digital signature etc. Both the correspondent technology and the Italian regulatory framework are ready to recognise the juridical value of these electronic procedures and they require these processes.
The technology has contributed consistently to a shift in the lifestyle, ways of working and organisational methods. However, whereas the main business activities, more exposed to the external competition, are inevitably subject to constant development, the back office support, administrative and performance audit areas often demonstrate a certain degree of resistance to change.
The internal self reference of support departments could justify the use of costly yet viable consolidated functioning modalities only up to the point of economic unsustainability. It is often suggested that the change is acceptable only when inevitable. However, from the point of view of the required technological investments and the necessary process revision such an approach could cause substantive damage to the organisation if guided solely by the desire to demonstrate the innovative operational modalities or due to excessive costs and financial unsustainability. Therefore we are trying to implement proactively a true cultural and organisational change with great impact on processes and with very important HR implications.
What was your solution?
My experience within the Italian multinational company has played a crucial role as it provided me with the understanding of the management processes, the constant international exposure and the profound knowledge both of the local organisational modalities and of the information system, thus enabling me to become the ‘trigger’ of the changes and to guide and guarantee the successful implementation.
Five fundamental elements to guarantee the success of the project were:
Planning. It is advisable to act upon the change beforehand and not when one is forced to do so. One should not be necessarily seeking changes, however, to offer the necessary support, it is vital to keep in consideration the possible areas of improvement and to avoid excessive self-reference often characteristic of high level executive positions, or of very junior operational roles.
Change management. If the technology is readily available on the market at the affordable and sustainable costs, then the most complex and lengthy organisational modifications are to be done in the HR area that could become either a strong ally and a useful lever or, on the contrary, they could oppose the change and, subsequently, cause the whole project to fail. Hence, having all personnel prepared, motivated and fully engaged in the process is crucial for success.
Team. It is essential to create a streamlined and flexible working group that, while being well structured and experienced, could think ‘’outside the box’’ and would be capable of questioning the existing patterns to create a shared, yet unobjectionable process that eventually will become automated.
Focus . Concentrate the project on the specific area so as to limit the scope of the ‘’potential failure’’ and to not allow the damage to the core business.
- Partenership. Reliability of internal (staff) and external (consultant) resources.
Tell us more about the impact on the company and its personnel?
The first project of e-transformation” within the accounting area, launched in 2009 with the management of the ‘’document storage of customers invoices’’ that accounted for the processing of 12000 invoices on the annual basis and had a sales turnover of 90 million Euro at the time, today with a sales turnover over 115 million Euro encompasses the whole account receivable part of the company (the clients) and accounts payable both in the form of digital invoicing or dematerialized invoices, document storage and document management and is currently making a profound impact on other back office activities.
The company has benefited immensely from the greater data security thanks to the cut in the operational costs and the costs of document storage, especially considering that the volumes of data are constantly growing, the enhanced reliability of the accounting and administrative procedures and thanks to the improvement of internal control system.
The working group that has actively participated in projects has demonstrated increasing enthusiasm and professional growth which allowed them to be involved in more qualified jobs and their colleagues could dedicate the time gained to better adapt to the new business realities.