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