e-invoicing just got very boring

e-invoicing just got very boring

Posted by Pete Loughlin in e-invoicing, Electronic Invoicing 17 May 2012

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.

  • Christian Lanng May 18, 2012 at 4:00 am /

    Can OB10 back their claims about supporting interoperability and openness with any single action they have taken? And no EESPA don’t count until they have made a difference?

  • Alan May 18, 2012 at 12:51 pm /

    I agree traditional eInvoicing is boring but changing the document from an eInvoice to an interactive client communication vehicle is exciting!

  • Frank May 19, 2012 at 11:31 am /

    Christian, since you mention ‘openness’ rather than repeatedly knocking other companies business models, would you care to address your own ‘100% free online e-invoicing’ claims, particularly when thats not strictly true is it?

  • Christian Lanng (CEO Tradeshift) May 20, 2012 at 4:42 pm /

    Frank: Thank you for giving me a chance to answer that, yes it is in fact strictly true. Some examples:

    1) Supplier A signs up to Tradeshift and starts sending invoices to Buyer B no matter if supplier A) sends 10, 100 or 1.000.000 invoices to Buyer B the cost is 0, it’s free!
    2) Supplier A decides he don’t want to type all these invoices so he installs the SFTP app and now he send 1.000.000 invoices directly integrated to Tradeshift, still free!
    3) Buyer A) decides he don’t want to receive 1.000.000 invoices in the web-interface and installs the SFTP app (or use the REST API, or connect using some other channel) to download the 1.000.000 invoices, guess what, still free!

    Yes we do sell some enterprise management tools and other stuff to run additional processes, manage on-boardings, build your enterprise apps etc. and that stuff costs, but invoicing on Tradeshift is 100% free, no matter how much you insinuate it isn’t.

    So back to the question about openness, I understand that OB10 have realized that openness is important for buyers and therefore are rebranding their past as quickly as they can, but no matter how you color it the past is not exactly impressive, a few questions to answer if they want to be taken seriously in this matter (and Pete should have asked):

    – Can a supplier switch from OB10 to another network and still deliver invoices to their customer?
    – How come that last year Ruud was bragging that only 0.04% of all traffic on the OB10 network came from other networks and now are they all about openness?
    – Where is the easily accessible OPEN description of OB10’s API’s, document formats and how to connect?
    – What OPEN standardization organization is maintaining the proprietary CSV files that OB10 exchanges?

    This is not “bashing” these are reasonable questions to ask anyone who claim they not only have seen the light, but apparently been pro openness all the way, even when the whole industry knows that is a joke… Now everyone can change their opinion and see the light, but then what ACTIONS have Luke McKeever and Co taken to back those claims?

    /Christian

  • Malcolm May 22, 2012 at 2:26 am /

    e-invoicing might be boring, but the exchanges between Christian and Frank certainly aren’t!

  • Pete Thomas May 25, 2012 at 2:29 am /

    We downloaded Tradeshift’s REST Explorer this afternoon and amidst other intermittent distractions were able to see https://api-sandbox.tradeshift.com/rest/external/documents returning data after a couple hours of effort.

    Although Harvest and Freshbooks offer similarly easy access to their platform, neither of those seem to have Tradeshift’s enterprise gravitas or sophisticated document (invoice) abstraction. Meanwhile, the otherwise mind-blowing potential that traditional enterprise e-invoicing companies hold is unfortunately hobbled by astoundingly high barriers to entry and seeming reluctance to let other concerns experiment with what they’ve built. Unless, of course, those concerns eager to experiment are willing to first engage in a relatively high-friction sales cycle.

    We’re not Tradeshift customers or partners, at this point we’re just dabbling in their platform, but the team has brought something uniquely compelling to the web. Others will be wise to learn from it!

  • Juergen Heinze February 2, 2013 at 10:31 am /

    I can no longer hear this endless debate about standards.

    Since 15 years the branche piss around and wants to make us still believe that there will be a standard that allows anyone to anyone. This is an illusion. Openness begins in the heads of the manager. That can’t deliver by a standard.

    Please. Sit down together and work. Builds from one network to the other network a connection and delivers, builds the next connection and delivers, builds the next connection and delivers, …. One after another. Until is covered the whole world. This works across standard borders. Do not talk about openness, but also practice them.

    This demands a German initiative of 90 global players. They want the provider to show their conenctions in their portal so that they can book them. http://www.messageportal.net They are sure to portray the world as a e-einvoicing landscape is the only way to get anyone to anyone.

    I think working together and use technic as it is now, is the last chance for this branche. Otherwise the suboptimal solution from SAP wins. That told me a decision maker from a worldmarketleader.

    Wake up and work!

    Juergen

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