The first rule of UKNeF is don’t mention UKNeF
UKNeF is the snappy acronym for the United Kingdom National e-invoicing Forum. It’s constituted under the Chatham House rule. In case you are unfamiliar with the Chatham House rule – it’s like Fight Club. The first rule of UKNeF is don’t mention UKNeF. And it really is like Fight Club. The action takes place in a basement. It’s an orgy of e-invoicing debate starring Edward Norton as “Nigel Taylor”, the insomniac office worker looking for a way to change his life who finds friendship with the devil-may-care character “Charles Bryant” played by Brad Pitt.
OK, it’s not like Fight Club – but it is set in a basement.
The acronym gives it away really. Anything called UKNeF is not going to be sexy. This is about e-invoicing after all. And while it may not be sexy, it is serious. It has been estimated that the United Kingdom spends between £22bn and £28bn each year just on preserving paper processes. That’s not the cost managing invoives and payments – that’s the money that is allocated to archaic ways of working – cash that could be freed up if public sector embraced the digital economy and traded electronically with it’s suppliers. And it is this scandall that UKNeF is working hard to rectify, trying to open up the conversations and pursuade the politicians that it time that e-invoicing was adopted.
Faced with the facts, electronic invoicing is a no-brainer. It doesn’t even require a leap of faith. The UK need only look as far as Denmark to see a precedent that proves the e-invoicing case. So why does there appear no political will to do anything about it? There’s a few reasons but the biggest is the aversion to regulation.
For years, regulation has been taboo. Regulation means extra cost. Regulations are patronizing and interfere with free markets. But regulation is not always about interference. It is sometimes a manifestation of leadership. Actively encouraging or even mandating the use of electronic invoicing is simple common sense. But politicians see it as regulation – forcing business to send invoices electronically – as if forcing them to send paper is not regulation!
The UK government trying to lead business on e-invoicing is a bit like teachers trying to teach kids about Facebook. They already get it. Why do politicians think that most of the biggest businesses in the world are already adopting electronic invoicing? But that is not to say that the sponsorship of the UKNeF by the Depertment for Business Innovation and Skills is not a positive gesture in the right direction. It’s very positive and the work of the UKNeF is making and will continue to make an invaluable contribution but I think they should go further and make a much bigger noise.
It’s time to come out of the basement and evangelise e-invoicing. The sooner the public sector in the UK stops the waste of £billions on archaic paper processes in its back offices and begins to implements 21st century best practice, the sooner tax payers money can be diverted toward measure to stimulate the economy and protect vital public services.
Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin