AP Automation

Sometimes, great ideas just never take off because some prerequisite solution to a problem hasn’t been solved. E-procurement was a great idea in the 1990’s but until the internet was ubiquitous and trusted, it was slow to take off. Looking back, the trust and ubiquity grew quite quickly but in 1996, if we had a crystal ball that said it would take the best part of a decade to become an established way of doing business, I wonder whether we’d have given up. We didn't know that the problem was trust and ubiquity until it was solved.

I recall in the late 1990's, I claimed that access to to the internet would soon be seen as more than a convenience, more than a useful tool but a fundamental human requirement. A bit of an exageration you might say and when I said this at conferences people took it that way - as a joke. I wasn't joking. I was guessing but I wasn't joking. Today there are more people with access to the internet than there are people with access to running water. There are parts of the world today where people need to walk 2 km to get water but they can get a mobile signal. What we think of in the developed world as basic infrastructure like electricity and water on tap hasn't reached corners of the globe that the telecommunication infrastructure has.

The UK Government last week published what they call their “Information Economy Strategy” in which the UK’s intentions for e-invoicing in public sector are stated. It’s been met with a positive, indeed an enthusiastic response. But not from me. This is what the UK government says: “Government also wants to make it easier for its suppliers once they have won contracts, by encouraging the use of electronic invoicing.” And they go on: “Government will not mandate suppliers at this stage, but will look at ways to spread best practice, and will track progress with a view to taking action if required at a later date.” Some commentators seem to believe that this adds up to a commitment. I’m no mathematician but when read this, in terms of commitment, it adds up to the square root of .. well, nothing! This statement of intent is typical politician speak that aims to placate the well informed who know something needs to be done and at the same time reassure the flat-earthers, fearful of change.

The electronic invoice goings on in Mexico have, understandably, attracted a great deal of attention. While nations like the US and the UK continue to sit on the fence, the Mexicans are setting the pace. But this isn’t just a matter for the Mexicans. And it’s not just Latin America that needs to keep a watchful eye on what’s going on as I realized when I spoke to Christian Lanng, CEO of Tradeshift and Steve Sprague, VP Product Marketing and Strategy for Invoiceware International. I spoke to Christian and Steve shortly after they announced a strategic alliance in May. The press releases that go out alongside these announcements are often dry and lacking detail so I was eager to hear what was so special about the Tradeshift and Invoiceware partnership and to get some insight from the people on the ground.

It was announced a few weeks ago that the Mexican Government has given businesses just 6 months to prepare for a major legislative change that will directly affect hundreds of thousands of small and medium sized businesses. And it’s not a trivial change. If businesses want to get paid for goods and services they supply, they’ll need to ensure that they generate invoices correctly and in accordance with the new rules. It’s not optional. There’ll be no excuses. It seems like a good idea to insist on the use of electronic invoices. It’s a mandate for common sense. The Mexican Government is embracing the digital age and at the same time implementing a zero tolerance approach to business taxes. But the rate of change they are imposing could create chaos as businesses fail to meet the deadline.

I’ve watched what Mexico is doing with great interest. The people behind the e-invoice mandate in Mexico are courageous and ambitious but they’re not the first to tackle such a challenge. Some time ago I chatted to Christian Lanng, CEO of Tradeshift, about his experience in Denmark and it struck me that there could be some interesting insights from his experience in developing the Danish mandated solution EasyTrade. So I asked him. To what extent, if any, I wondered, is Mexico treading in Denmark’s footsteps?

OB10 operation in the United States, OB10 have just posted record revenues in their financial year just closed. Figures for year ending April 30, 2013 show revenues generated from new buyer customers increased by 56% and the number of new suppliers on the network increased by 46% over the previous year. OB10 believe that the rise in new buyers and suppliers demonstrates that US corporations continue to seek efficiencies, streamline business processes, and improve their use of cash. That hardly surprising. We think that it's further evidence to support the view that e-invoicing is becoming embedded proven best practice in P2P.