e-invoicing has become boring. And about time too because now the exciting stuff can begin.

Purchasing Insight logoIt’s boring because everyone now gets it. I was discussing this with Luke McKeever, OB10 CEO, this week. He explained that approximately 75% of the £40 million investment that OB10 have made over the years has been in educating the market.

It’s been a long journey. The simple and compelling idea that we should exchange electronic messages rather than paper documents was first frustrated by governments. Legislative change was necessary to recognize an electronic invoice as a legitimate legal document. Without paper, it was feared, there couldn’t be proper controls. In tax jurisdictions where VAT applies, businesses act as important agents in the collection of tax. It is critical that this can be audited effectively.

Even after the law-makers got it, a multitude of standards and commercial protectionism got in the way but, thankfully, the technology has moved on so that most of these hurdles are easily overcome. Despite the ongoing debate about interoperability, the commercial case has been made and, at last, e-invoicing is becoming business as usual in many countries and in many industries. And it’s a good thing because e-invoicing is just the infrastructure required to perform the really transformational stuff.

Luke described a good analogy from his marketing background – the single view of the customer. This was one of those initiatives that captured the attention of many businesses in the 1990s especially in the financial services industry. As banks and insurances companies grew through merger and acquisition, so did the number of IT systems that held data about their customers. It was a major challenge to join this disparate data together to know whether the customer with the mortgage was the same as the one with the credit card and cross selling opportunities were being missed. Developing the single view of the customer was the commercial imperative of the day but on its own it didn’t achieve anything. It was the platform that, once in place, much better, more focused and more accurate marketing became possible.

e-invoicing is the same. It’s not the efficiencies that it delivers that is interesting any more – that a little bit passé – it the lucrative opportunities to manage financial supply chain that is getting exciting.