Author: Pete Loughlin

When you read the news this week that the European Union has agreed a mandate for e-invoicing you could be forgiven for thinking that the policy makers in Europe have come to their senses. They estimate that a saving of €2.3 billion a year could be delivered by streamlining the back office processes in public sector by using a common electronic standard for transmitting invoice data. This all sounds very worthy - very 21st century, but as someone with a professional interest in this (as well as a personal stake in it as a European taxpayer), I’m less than impressed. Here’s why.

We all know the expression “There’s always someone worse off”. It’s a form of words aimed at reassuring someone who is perhaps feeling a little sorry for them self. It’s similar to “count your blessings”– it puts your troubles in perspective. But it’s a bit pot half empty isn’t it? Where's the ambition in “It could be worse”? Of course things could always be worse but whether things are going OK or not, shouldn’t we be saying “It could be better. It can be better. I will make it better”. Personally, I’m a big fan of the expression “there’s always someone better off”.

Ask anyone who knows what they’re talking about - go to any conference on Purchase to Pay and you’ll hear the same thing: The biggest challenge to making P2P work is the disconnect between finance and procurement. I’ve commented on it many times. There are fundamental differences between the way finance and procurement see purchase to pay and getting alignment is not straight forward but there’s another reason why, for some organizations it is a challenge and that is their organizational structure.

Managing P2P in a matrix

To someone in an functionally structured organization, it doesn’t seem unusual. Indeed, if you are used to working within a functional silo, to operate in a matrix environment would seem daunting. How can you serve two masters? How can competing priorities be managed? In contrast, those that operate in matrix organizations view siloed businesses with some disdain. The term “silo mentality” is never used as a compliment. But sometimes, silos are sensible or at least non-negotiable and when that’s the case, the task of implementing P2P is especially challenging.

P2P in a matrix environment

Nipendo has announced a new milestone marking the rapid adoption of the company’s Supplier Cloud platform by buyer and supplier organizations, exceeding one million automated procure-to-pay transactions per month. With streamlined onboarding and a range of free to low-cost supplier connectivity options, buyer organizations working with Nipendo are reaching industry-best supplier adoption rates. By automating the entire procure-to-pay cycle through the Nipendo platform, over 90% of all transactions are processed straight-through to the buyer’s ERP system without any manual intervention.

"As new Turkish e-Invoicing regulations come into force in January 2014, two leading service providers have partnered to bring world-class electronic invoicing to Turkey." So says the press release that many of you will have read over the past few days about OB10 and Digital Planet. But how big a deal is this? What is the significance of the Turkish regulation change? If you look into it, it seems only to effect a few corporations - those that trade in alcohol, tabacco and gasoline. Will it have a major impact or is this really just the Turkish Government piloting a concept or seeking to control industries within which tax evasion is common? As an outsider, it's easy to jump to these conclusions so rather than relying on my limited knowledge and intuition on this subject, I spoke to an insider, Adnan Vural, CEO of Digital Planet, who was able to demystify things for me. The new regime in Turkey I learned, is no pilot exercise.

In many organisations, purchase to pay is like a car crash. Like something dreadful – something that despite yourself, you can’t stop watching. Unbelievable. Horrific. Shocking even. Yet compelling. Alright, perhaps not quite that bad - but it can be pretty bad. I also mean it’s like a car crash in the sense that if you ask a few witnesses what they saw, they’ll all tell you something different. It's like they’re describing completely different events. It’s something I’ve written about before – the wide variety of views that people have of the same thing depending on their perspective. Finance people see P2P as an opportunity to account for things more accurately. Purchasing people see it as an opportunity to make savings through compliance and, indirectly, through better spend analysis to get better value for money. Ask a P2P operations person, they’ll tell you it’s about better process and straight through processing. They’re all valid perspectives and they are all correct but I have a question. Which perspective delivers the biggest benefit and more importantly, which is the one that will persuade a board to invest in P2P? In other words, what is the real business case for P2P? It's not what you might think.

It’s quite easy to “get” the benefits of e-procurement – electronic catalogues linked to a purchase approval workflow. It’s a no brainer and it was one of the most successful B2B technology of the 1990s as the opportunity was seen to emulate the ease of buying that amazon, Dell and eBay offered. But it was never as straightforward as the B2C equivalent. You don’t need to account for everything you buy on eBay and apply GL codes and cost centres and we don’t need a 3 way match. That’s why Amazon is easy. (How many times have you heard someone in business complain about their ERP purchasing module asking why it can’t be like Amazon?) And what about e-invoicing? That seems like a compelling proposition until you try to automate Accounts Payable in an environment where the purchasing process is out of control.