I’m walking backwards for Christmas

I’m walking backwards for Christmas

Posted by Ian Burdon in AP Automation, e-invoicing, e-Procurement, Electronic Invoicing, EU Commission, P2P Europe 09 Oct 2013

In October 2008, some colleagues and I were in Brussels for a European Commission/PEPPOL session. Halfway through the morning we called our office travel agents and asked if they could book us onto earlier flights home and left. During the morning session I wrote in my diary “trying to decide between slitting my wrists or hurling myself from the window. One of the most dispiriting experiences of my life is sitting here listening to policy officers and IT staff talking rubbish and reinventing the wheel. Do our taxes pay for this nonsense? Yes they do”.

Two things reminded me of this recently: the first was reading a PEPPOL Business Interoperability Specification (BIS 28A  – Ordering) which was out for review; the second was the reaction when the Draft Directive on eInvoicing managed to omit any mention of PEPPOL.

Purchasing Insight logoBIS 28A – Ordering aimed to “describe a common format for the order message in the European market, and to facilitate an efficient implementation and increased use of electronic collaboration regarding the ordering process based on this format”. It failed.

Partly the failure was because it tried to institutionalise a cumbersome process (transactional negotiation of the terms of a purchase order!) which bore no relationship to real-world purchasing practice. Partly it was because the specification persisted in the delusion that the PEPPOL transport layer is a necessary, required or even desirable means of exchanging purchasing data between buyer and supplier no matter what country they are in. Partly it was because it was horribly reminiscent of those awful IT procurements in which every element is specified down to the last detail with no scope for innovative solutions, leaving you at the mercy of expensive change controls whenever anything changes. I had thought procurement had moved on from that but not, it seems, at PEPPOL.

Also, as I have argued here previously, the document was a product of the mindset which looks at “eProcurement” and sees only that “e” prefix. PEPPOL continues to fetishize the technical at the expense of business requirements.

There are plenty of commercial solutions in the market which will do all that is required for effective trading. All that is needed for interoperability is to make interoperability a mandatory requirement for bidders to reach the final stages of the competitive process and then to evaluate the ways bidders propose to achieve it. This, of course, this is effectively a requirement of the last sentence of Article 23.3.(a) of Directive 2004/18/EC.

I wrote here last year that money continues to be spent on “a species of wheel reinvention by technologists which has resulted in the rims being hexagonal instead of round – but, hey, they’re e-wheels, right?”.

While BIS 28A was depressing, the failure of the draft Directive to mention PEPPOL gave me some hope that an outbreak of business sense, not to mention common sense, might have occurred at the Commission.

Ian Burdon can be found on twitter @IanBurdon

  • Mairi Hayworth October 9, 2013 at 11:10 am /

    PEPPOL has come a long way since the early days of 2008 and a quick look at the BIS 3A Order specification should alleviate your concerns about it being overly complex.

    However, I became involved in PEPPOL for an entirely different reason. After 18 years of implementing eInvoicing from within large multi-nationals, I could see a trend in the market that was prohibiting rather than promoting automation. Each large buyer would choose to work with a specific eInvoicing service provider, agree the terms, and then force their suppliers to either send invoices through that provider – or have them risk losing the supply contract. This put suppliers in the position of having to enter into a multitude of contracts with unwanted partners and often on cost-prohibitive terms in order to reach all of the buyers they supplied. I was on the receiving end of some of the bullying techniques that were used in order to ‘get all of the suppliers on-board’ for many of these buyers and can assure you, this was not the way to promote ‘e’-anything.

    The PEPPOL network, with its four corner model (sending and receiving through 2 separate Access Points) provides suppliers with the freedom to either set up their own Access Point or work with the one single Access Point provider of their choice (one agreement and one set of terms) in order to reach all the other buyers (through their respective Access Points) in the network. This, in my view, is like a breath of fresh air for eInvoicing and eProcurement in general. I’m an SME now and my first PEPPOL outbound eInvoice implementation was almost effortless!

  • Christian Lanng October 10, 2013 at 9:03 pm /

    Don’t feed the trolls.

    It’s a simple rule often forgotten. I think Ian Burdon forgets to do some disclosure in this article, he could have mentioned that he works for a company who builds proprietary procurement technology who have a lot to loose if open standards in this space became a reality.

    What is more sad, is that currently all the lobbyist are out in full force deadly scared that god forbid, open standards should get into the E-invoicing Directive. That’s why Norway was recently called a “socialist country” by OB10’s Head of Interoperability, because they dared to have a successful implementation of e-invoicing based on open standards, but the fact is that the lobbyist trolls can only tear apart, they don’t have any constructive alternatives, the solutions are always vague.

    Just ask them what they think should be the solution? (apart from buying their overprices, proprietary, bloated software).

  • Mikkel Hippe Brun October 11, 2013 at 6:57 am /

    Ian, this is not at all up to the standard of writing that I have come to like about Purchasing Insight. I have until now seen Purchasing Insight as a source of informed opinions about market trends and events. Your post is quite frankly very biased and unsubstantiated. You have not had enough curiosity to really understand what you are criticizing and dismissing.

    You make indirect reference to my three-part blog post about the draft e-invoicing directive. I suggest that you next time have the curtsey of making proper references and read them to the end.

    Failing to deliver: The draft directive on e-invoicing (Lessons from the past – GSM) http://blog.tradeshift.com/failing-to-deliver-the-draft-eu-directive-on-e-invoicing-part-1/

    The draft e-invoicing directive: A detailed look (highlighting four major flaws of the directive) http://blog.tradeshift.com/failing-to-deliver-part-2-the-draft-e-invoicing-directive-a-detailed-look/

    The ideal e-invoicing directive (vision for a Europe where we do things right) http://blog.tradeshift.com/failing-deliver-part-3-ideal-e-invoicing-directive/

    If you read them – then you would understand that the strong drive for PEPPOL is very much founded on business arguments or “business sense” as you call it. You claim that “There are plenty of commercial solutions in the market which will do all that is required for effective trading. All that is needed for interoperability is to make interoperability a mandatory requirement for bidders…” You must clearly be talking about eProcurement / Tendering? Because if you talk about e-invoicing then the statement is 100% rubbish.

    There are 300+ e-invoicing service providers in Europe and probably thousands of e-invoicing service providers worldwide. How do we realize true interoperability among all these service providers without a 4-corner model and governance? This is what PEPPOL was designed to handle. PEPPOL is basically a service-provider-2-service-provider infrastructure. It was designed and built on the basis of very successful initiatives like the Danish e-invoicing infrastructure EasyTrade that from 2005 connected 30,000 public sector institutions with 250,000 suppliers on the basis of a PEPPOL-like model. It was all based on open standard, open infrastructure public governance and commercial products. More than 100 million electronic invoices have been exchanged in Denmark alone.

    Please write a blog post about how you on the basis “commercial solutions” and “mandatory interoperability” will make this work? Are the 300+ service providers in Europe going to make bilateral interchanges with each other. How can you seriously say that it is a “delusion that the PEPPOL transport layer is a necessary”? How will you handle addressing if you only have semantic interoperability? How will I know where to send my electronic invoice?


    Allow me to set a few things straight. The PEPPOL you so quickly dismiss as “policy officers and IT staff talking rubbish and reinventing the wheel” actually has real traction. It is perhaps not perfect but it is a foundation that has actually been battle-tested in real life day-to-day operation. It is the only credible solution that will allow us to realize a vision where a supplier only needs one service provider in order to send e-invoices to all customers – independently of what service provider the customer uses.

    Here are some facts about PEPPOL traction:

    Norway – close to two million electronic invoices have been exchanged. More than 50 service providers have implemented PEPPOL and have been certified to offer access to the PEPPOL infrastructure in Norway. See the list and you will recognize a few international players here: http://anskaffelser.no/e-handel/artikler/aksesspunkter

    Denmark has implemented a PEPPOL gateway that will allow foreign suppliers to reach all of the 30,000 public sector institutions in Denmark. It is operational and is already delivering value to suppliers and public sector institutions.

    Sweden has also implemented at PEPPOL gateway that bridges state institutions with all 60+ PEPPOL service providers: http://www.peppol.eu/pilot-reporting/infrastructure/post-award-infrastructure-1/access-point-providers

    The Netherlands is implementing PEPPOL in the public sector. Simplerinvoicing is an example of an independent group of service providers that supports this: http://simplerinvoicing.com

    Poland just announced that PEPPOL is the pillar of their national e-Invoicing strategy: http://eeiplatform.com/12712/poland-plans-to-use-peppol-for-b2g-electronic-invoicing/

    Other countries like Austria, Finland, Ireland, Italy, France have also gone far in their implementations and piloting of PEPPOL.


    Talking about “business sense” in the e-invoicing directive as you put it. Do you really support that we spend another two years on and academic exercise to define a “semantic data model” that will solve all problems?

    I do not believe that you can come up with an alternative model that can give European businesses the same competitive advantage as an implementation of PEPPOL would give.

    You are very quick to dismiss the hard work taking place in PEPPOL to define different profiles of use. Of course PEPPOL did not start out with the more complicated use cases. But what the PEPPOL BIS profiles demonstrate is that there is a standard the covers the whole procurement process. Not only e-invoicing. The countries that have used e-invoicing for years are now asking for support for more advanced processes. That’s why the standards and specifications effort have to work on the business processes that will be used in 5 years from now.

  • Pete Loughlin October 11, 2013 at 11:03 am /

    Not quite sure why you’re knocking Purchasing Insight for allowing opinions to be aired – that is part of what Purchasing Insight is about – but leaving that aside, thank you for the thorough response. This is an interesting and important debate and your contribution is valued and appreciated.

  • Markus Hornburg October 11, 2013 at 11:39 am /

    Christian, I´m hugely disappointed as you are getting the facts wrong. I´m neither the Head of Interoperability at OB10 nor did I call Norway a socialist country. That was someone else you picked on in your tweets.
    I merely stated that Norway is not part of the EU (which I still consider accurate and Norway would probably confirm I´m right) and thus seem more flexible which is great for them.
    To stick to the facts, you stated things in your public tweets which I personally consider insulting and I would recommend you reverted back to discussing business instead of throwing insults which I believe is not something a CEO of a reputable company should do.

  • Christian Lanng October 11, 2013 at 3:32 pm /

    @Pete: I think the problem people have is the lack of disclosure, you are a neutral party and people have come to see Purchasing Insight that way, there is no disclosure in the above piece that Ian Burdon is working for a company that have vested commercial interest in PEPPOL not succeeding, such a disclosure would probably alter most readers opinion of the piece.

    @Markus: Forgive me, you are right, I confused your tweet with the Nigel Taylor from GXS who called Norway a “socialist country”, your argument against Norway being a showcase for success was even more vague: “Norway is the showcase for Peppol. Does anyone believe their story is transferable to the EU? They have reasons for not being in the EU!” https://twitter.com/markushornburg7/status/380263133811855360 it can be hard to keep the trolls apart sometimes.

    Currently it’s the same MO from anyone who is scared of open standards in this space, vague attacks, not on substance, but on the proponents of open standards. I find it hilarious that OB10 can keep mentioning how many standardization organizations they are part of and how much they want interoperability, but have not done a SINGLE thing to actually implement it. Why not just implement a PEPPOL Gateway, or an OPEN API? Hell we don’t even care what standard.

    We currently allow free interoperability to anyone who want (just go developer.tradeshift.com), we operate a PEPPOL Gateway and we give all our users access to any network that will connect. Without charging them fees, that is action – not just words.


  • Mikkel Hippe Brun October 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm /

    @pete It was not clear to me that Ian was an external blogger. I was reading his post as a Purchasing Insight piece. You have become a trusted voice in the community and I was expecting all content to be of the same standard. Perhaps you should clearly label contributions from from other bloggers so they don’t harm your brand.

  • Jon Hansen October 12, 2013 at 1:40 am /

    Perhaps I am missing something but I have seen nothing in terms of data supporting the position being championed in the above comment stream. Specifically the trumpeting of technological promise and references to increased supplier access (as opposed to actual engagement) is not an indication of a sound (nor successful) initiative.

    For example, when I did an analysis of why Virginia’s eVA program has and continues to be successful (http://procureinsights.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/eva-your-still-the-one/ ), I had made references to hard data along the following lines:

    1. In 2001, when eVA was launched, there were a total of 26,000 suppliers of which only 23% received orders (re won contracts).

    2. By 2007, the supply base grew to 34,000 registered suppliers and (this is the key point), more than 43% of the total supply base received orders (re won contracts).

    Today, these numbers have continued on an upward trend.

    This is just one point of reference in terms of the kind of information that is needed to truly evaluate the PEPPOL Gateway.

    Sadly, and reflective of the fact that since 2001 85% of all eProcurement initiatives have failed to deliver the expected results, the arguments being offered – at least in this forum – are technologically oriented. And technology is by and large irrelevant when it takes precedence over how the real world operates.

    In the link I have provided you are certainly welcome to scrutinize my findings and conclusions – check out the comment stream as well.

    In the meantime, if someone has data along the lines of what I have referenced above, please share it.

  • Nigel Taylor October 13, 2013 at 3:34 pm /

    Where to start? I think, due to the sheer volume of verbiage on this thread I will keep it as short as I can and stick to 3 subjects…

    The first would have to be on lobbying. Who are these mysterious lobbyists who have subverted PEPPOL? Are you inferring someone like me perhaps? As you well know, I am Chair of the UK National e-Invoicing Forum and actively involved in the EC e-Invoicing Forum, and as such adding to the debate. As such I am responsible for representing the views of all of my peers and fortunately I am known for being honest and fair – ask around.

    Perhaps another perspective on lobbying would be individuals actively involved in creating PEPPOL who leave to create their own ‘disruptive’ start-up company, which has a vested interest in network growth advantaged by EU government PEPPOL mandates. Or is that collusion? I’m not quite sure, I will have to check.

    The second is on ‘trolling’, or.. for the sake of this thread, let’s use a legal term – slander. To even infer that people who oppose your point of view are trolling (what/who.. you?) is in fact slanderous and the connotations are quite sick. I tend to avoid threads like these (I’ll make an exception today, as I am being personally attacked), as they end up as ugly, defamatory and pointless… not my style at all.

    I am often amused by loud-mouths on the internet. I liken it to angry drivers who once inside their car imbibe a sense of bravado that fuels their crass and dangerous actions. So when compelled, I will always stick up for people, even my competitors, when I feel they are being unfairly attacked for their opinions – and I expect ethical behaviour when dealing with my peers, especially someone described as a CEO.

    And the third.. Jeez, after all that I don’t feel like giving my opinions on PEPPOL – after all, PEPPOL knows them, the European Commission knows them and my peers know them… So, instead of acting like a couple of hysterical teenage girls at a One Direction concert – get involved in the debate in the appropriate forums and stop crying on the sidelines if you don’t get your own way.

    Now if you’ll excuse me I have (voluntary) work to do for the Comission – Promoting how companies like Tradeshift can increase SME adoption of e-Invoicing…

    One last thought though – Norway is a democratic constitutional monarchy.. within which the labour party has been the largest since 1927 and has been in power since 2005 (Wiki). The oil and gas sector constitutes around 22% of Norwegian GDP and 67% of Norwegian exports (EC).

    So I believe my Twitter statement backing up Markus “Not all countries are socialist, have equal economic advantages, have greater B2B maturity” is in fact correct when you compare Norway to say, oh I don’t know… say Portugal – Who have of course implemented their own government e-Invoicing system, similar to the Brazilian model, and without PEPPOL.

  • Christian Lanng October 13, 2013 at 4:23 pm /

    Hi Nigel,

    It’s funny how both you and Markus desperately want to avoid the substance here.

    First whenever you, Markus or other old-school industry players mention Brazil and Mexico, you conveniently forget that both countries solutions are a technical mandate as well as a policy one, there is in fact one oprn technical and semantical standard underlying both solutions Nota Fiscal in Brazil and CFDI in Mexico, it’s exactly the same model as the one PEPPOL advocates and funnily enough this have lead to a revolution in e-business in both countries, just like PEPPOL have in Scandinavia.

    Secondly you again avoid the substance, what should we do instead, what is your proposed solution and even more importantly what action have you taken? The reality is that there is too many old-guard companies that have too much to lose with interoperability. We don’t care about PEPPOL we care that there is open standards driving trade forward (that is why we also fully support CFDI and Nota Fiscal), what we care about is that there is multilateral interoperability and there is an increasing amount of players like us, that have benefited from open standards, it’s not me you are fighting, but the internet – good luck.

    As for the moral high horse you come riding in on regarding how we argue, it’s not me who use all name-calling like “hysterical teenagers in a One Direction concert” or the author of this blog-post, who made comments around “slitting his wrists”, or you who hint that Tradeshift is founded in collusion with the European Commission (so it’s now illegal to fund a private sector company if you worked in the government?, I though that was what you wanted). What is really disturbing though, is that when I call both you and Markus out on substance it get’s personal around me as a CEO, hinting of slander and defamation (really? why not just stand up to what you say on Twitter). As for the appropiate forum, I just feel that open discussion on the internet is the appropriate forum, not some policy back-room, especially when the motives in that back-room is quite opaque.

    I think you strategy is to keep calling me a loudmouth because you don’t like what I’m saying. Since neither you or Markus have any substantial technical or policy arguments against something like PEPPOL (or any other open set of standards for business) you go after the person.

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