The digitalization age: guide for small and medium companies

Elena Margaria Elena Margaria12 min

Digitalization here, Industry 4.0 there. All words that, although with different nuances, refer to the same unstoppable phenomenon that has swept upside down Italy and the world. And yes, although it proceeds at a slow pace, even in Italy it has spread and is spreading like wildfire.

And it's not only thanks to the new laws imposed by the government. True, they have no doubt given a good initial boost. But the credit goes also and especially to those Italian entrepreneurs who were the first to embrace the challenge of digitalization obtaining indisputable advantages, thus giving a good example and a good dose of courage to the more hesitant.

However, if yours is a micro, small or medium-sized company there is a good chance that you haven't yet taken part in this challenge. And I'm not the one saying it. The statistics and reports compiled to capture the situation of Italian companies in the field of digital transformation say so. Later we'll see this in more detail.

This article will take you step by step to discover the world of digitalization. You'll find out first of all what exactly it is, without too many words, and more importantly how even a small company can take advantage of it without large initial investments, thanks to very new applications that few know but are already revolutionizing the way of working of those who came across them.

So, are you ready?! Let's begin!

What exactly is digitalization? And the digital transformation?

Digitization is the transformation of information into the language of computers and, as far as companies are concerned, the term changes and turns into digitalization. This consists of the introduction of new technologies with the aim of responding to the needs of today's consumers, who want more and more personalized and immediate products.

Digital transformation, instead, indicates the set of changes, not only technological, but also cultural and organizational, deriving from the adoption of digital technologies. Changes that are increasingly going in the direction of transparency and sharing, putting the final user at the center of the development.

Conclusion? The digital transformation is the result of digitalization.

And what's meant by Industry 4.0 and Impresa 4.0? Are they the same thing?

Industry 4.0, quoting Wikipedia, is the trend of industrial automation that integrates some new production technologies to improve working conditions, create new business models and increase productivity and production quality of the plants. In other words, it's a further evolution of industrial automation that exploits the connectivity between machinery, computers and the network.

The term Industry 4.0 doesn't come from nowhere, but it's actually the name of a European initiative, in turn inspired by a German government project. This project, which materialized in 2013, was intended to modernize German manufacturing with the aim of bringing it back to world level. And, due to the results obtained in the project, it pushed many other countries, including Italy, to pursue the same policy.

In fact, Industry 4.0 also indicates the set of measures taken by the Italian Government to incentivize manufacturing companies to digital transformation. The plan was renamed Impresa 4.0 in the end of 2017, when the initiatives planned by the government started being of interest to all sectors of the economy (not just manufacturing) and were mainly aimed at small and medium enterprises.

But why precisely 4.0? Because some of the studies that have been done to define the social and economic impact of these policies have defined this historical period the fourth industrial revolution. Isn't it crazy?! In a few years, our time will appear on the history books just like that, as the fourth industrial revolution!

Picture by Christoph Roser,

By the way, I'll tell you a secret ... I've always thought the second industrial revolution was the last one, what a shame! At school, in fact, starting every time from prehistoric times, there's never been any time to study the most recent years and so I've always only done a quick overview of latest events! How about you, did you know it?! Tell me the truth!

Conclusion? Impresa 4.0 is the next step in the evolution of Industry 4.0.

At what point is the digitalization of small and medium-sized Italian companies?

To answer this question, I refer to the PMI Digital Index 2019, the report that describes the level of digitalization of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Italy. It was made by GoDaddy, the largest domain registrar in the world. Registrar what? Can you eat it? No! It's just a technical term to indicate an online platform where you can buy the name (domain) of your website.

The report, despite being based on the profile of 4,000 Italian SMEs with a registered domain, shows that there is still big room for improvement. Why do I say, and I stress, despite it? Because since it's based on companies with a registered domain, that is a website, it omits all those companies that don't yet have an online presence, hence excluding most of the least digitalized ones.

To give you just an idea, from the results it emerges that the most mature sector from the digital point of view is that of accommodation and catering. Following those are furniture, healthcare, education and security services, while the least digitalized are the sectors of minerals, plastic, metal, construction, leather and textiles, and transportation and storage.

Another interesting thing and, honestly, also a bit unexpected (I may be biased, but I was disappointed!), is the fact that the SMEs of the North-West are the least digitalized of Italy, while those of Marche, Sardinia and Lazio are the most mature from this point of view.

Something curious not to be underestimated, is the fact that the degree of digitalization increases hand-in-hand with turnover, especially within certain sectors (minerals, plastic, metal, wood and paper), suggesting two things:

The larger the company, the more willing it is to invest in its digital transformation.
The more digitalized the company, the bigger the turnover.

Finally, GoDaddy emphasizes that the digitalization creates real value for companies only in the most advanced digital maturity phase. Do you want my personal opinion? Here it is!

On one hand I completely agree, because with technology it works just like that: the real advantages arrive when everything is connected and automated, not when you do things halfway, because then you just risk losing time and money!

At the same time, though, I'm convinced that you need to start somewhere. And, as in everything, it's impossible as well as counter-productive to go from 0 to 100 overnight! In digitalization, as in life, you go through small steps, setting ambitious but achievable goals, and act accordingly.

That's why below you can find my suggestions to start (or continue) the digital transformation of your company, by objectives. It doesn't try to be a complete list, but a list of ideas to draw from or get inspired by in case you want to improve by going step by step, without making big investments all at once. I really hope you find it useful to make informed choices not dictated by the latest trends or hearsay!

GOAL #1 - Speed ​​up the visualization of XML invoices

Why lose your sight trying to read XML invoices with a text editor like WordPad, or waste time going to the revenues agency's website each time? No need to do either!

If you happen to have XML invoices on your PC, but you can't see them as you would like, I have good news. AssoInvoice is the free program for you. It doesn't do much, I have to be honest, but what it does it does it great. Would you like to know more? Read this article and find out immediately why AssoInvoice is perfect for viewing electronic invoices.

GOAL #2 - Simplify the management of your documents

I know: all these documents and bureaucracy are driving you crazy. And yet, they must be done. So why stay here complaining instead of solving the problem at the root? It's not an impossible mission, I can assure you!

If creating documents is not a problem for you, but you are looking for a solution for storing them, consider the cloud and you will not regret it. Still?! But can you eat this cloud that everyone talks about it? I can already hear you! To really understand what the cloud is and how to use it in your company (not just for archiving documents) take a look at this article.

I convinced you, didn't I?! I knew it! Then take a look at Google Drive and Dropbox: they both offer a lot of free space storage space for your documents.

If instead you want a more complete solution, which simplifies your life with the creation, management and storage of documents, then you need a management software on the cloud, like Dockington.

Such software not only simplifies document management, but also automates all those manual tasks you find yourself doing daily just to put your work on paper, saving you hours and hours of work every week.

GOAL #3 - Simplify the management of your employees

Between holidays, leaves and sick leaves it's a snap to get confused and forget to mark them, and then pay the consequences. Or am I wrong?

And then, how many hours do you spend each month checking the timesheet and promptly asking for clarifications on missing hours due to I must have forgotten to mark it?

Well, recently I've learned about an app, Fluida, created to simplify the relationship between worker and company. This HR platform allows you to manage absences, mark overtime, request holidays, and even fill out expense reports. All with a few taps on the phone, making these bureaucratic and boring activities, fast and fun.

GOAL #4 - Keep under control the status of the orders

First of all, to make accurate estimates on delivery times. How many times have you promised the impossible to a customer just to win the order, and then found yourself working at crazy times? For sure you experienced this. It happens to everyone!

Then, to avoid delays in deliveries. In fact, when the priorities aren't clear, you end up working for the customer who stresses you more instead of at the most urgent order. And don't tell me that it's never happened to you because I don't believe it!

And finally, because having the order status always up-to-date avoids unpleasant situations, such as the loss of potential customers and the curses of the courier that has to wait.

For a status of the orders that is always up to date with the latest deliveries, I recommend a management software designed to meet this need first and foremost.

For example, Dockington, even before being a billing software, is an order management program. But what does it mean? It means that despite the final purpose is to create invoices, the real automation lies in the orders.

Because yes, it's nice to invoice, but... isn't what comes before billing that requires most of the time and work?!

Tell me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that what can really simplify your life is a program that allows you to quickly import the orders received and visualize the status based on the deadlines. To easily schedule the production and make partial or total deliveries, depending on the case, with a couple of clicks. Don't you agree?

GOAL #5 - Keep track of the relationship with your customers

Why? you may ask. Because:

We're all busy, and unless your product or service is essential, it can happen that a customer, after asking you for info, forgets to buy.
You too are super busy, and you too can happen to not immediately answer a request and then forget about it.
Knowing if and how often a customer returns to buy from you is very useful to improve your offer.
Sometimes even a loyal customer needs a phone call to be reminded of how much he needs what you offer.

They are called CRMs, or Customer Relationship Management, and they are softwares designed specifically for those companies that want to monitor the performance of their sales staff and simplify the planning of the various phases: contact via email/tel, contact in person, quote, sale...

However, unless your company has a dedicated department and sales agents (in which case I strongly suggest you to take a look at these softwares as you could really benefit from them), there's a good chance that you can do without such complex software. Especially because, in my opinion, it may take you too much time compared to the advantages you'd actually have.

Do you want a a piece of advice? If I were you, I would evaluate these two options.

One: I'd make myself a nice Excel table with customer, contact type, date and keep it up to date manually. Obviously, only if the customers were less than 20/30. Otherwise it would become too demanding and time consuming.

Two: if I already had a management software, I would add a customer management module; in case I didn't have it yet, I'd look for one that includes it. And the reason why I'd like it integrated into my management system is very simple. Since I'm already entering customer data to create DDTs and invoices, why should I re-enter them in a second program? And then, why have to manually add some events like offer sent and order received, when the management software I use already has all this info?

GOAL #6 - Keep an eye on your finances

We tend to think that only large companies should keep their finances in order. That's bullshit! In reality, it's the small businesses that need them the most to grow.

The difference between successful entrepreneurs and others is indeed the habit of periodically taking a look at their numbers. Not any look, eh, let's be clear! A systematic look, aimed at getting clear about the progress of the company and identifying the points to improve. But not only. Because, more importantly, business statistics help make decisions.

To keep an eye on your company's finances, I cannot but suggest you Dockington Reports, our program for company's stats, which turns your XML invoices directly into graphs, thus avoiding manual data entry.

It's brand new! The idea, in fact, was born just a few months ago, when we realized that small companies really spend too much time entering data into Excel, to then have too limited graphs.

With Dockington Reports, you have in form of graphs all the data present in your XML invoices (both sales and purchase), without having to enter them one by one. Of course, you can still manually add those expenses or revenues for which you don't have an electronic invoice, to have a really complete overview of costs, revenues, customers and suppliers. But most of the work is done for you.

Simply put, Dockington Reports is designed to provide you with the information you need to make informed decisions, based on graphs and statistics that help you spot the best customers and identify the expenses that are not strictly necessary.

The digitalization of companies step by step: now it's your turn!

After this not too short but certainly intense round-up of ideas on how to tackle digitalization in small steps, you have no more excuses. It's time to move on to practice and start (or continue) the digital transformation of your business, no matter how big or small!

Like any business owner, you definitely have a million things to do and, despite doing your best, you probably struggle to keep up with everything. It's normal! So why not use digitalization to your advantage and try to speed up your activities, while maintaining or, even better, improving the quality you offer to your customers?

And remember: there is no need to start with the sixth gear and do everything right away. The important thing is to start, possibly with the goal you want to achieve in mind. Because, as they say, it is in small steps that great goals are reached.

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