UK public sector – it’s time to look again at e-invoicing

UK public sector – it’s time to look again at e-invoicing

It’s been over a decade since the e-business machine was mobilised and it began to evangelise the use of the internet to deliver supply chain efficiencies. There were some big claims made about how much public sector organisations could save – some of which were valid, others a little optimistic – and despite scepticism in some quarters, the UK government, like most across the world, recognised that the new purchase to pay solutions that were emerging could deliver significant value.

Purchasing Insight logoMany of the solutions found their limits early and they were somewhat disappointing – not because the solutions themselves didn’t work but rather, they promised more than they could deliver at the time. e-invoicing is a prime example. It heralded a new era of efficiency and lots of organisations – public and private sector – responded to the call. Many organisations, especially in the public sector, put a tick in the “e” box by asking for pdf invoices. The fact that they were simply re-keying the invoice data and not delivering any savings didn’t seem to matter. Solution vendors joined in too.  The document management companies promised e-invoicing efficiencies by scanning paper documents – it didn’t work terribly well.  Sadly, too many jumped on the e-invoicing band wagon – and a wheel fell off. It has enjoyed a mixed reputation ever since.

But something has been happening, quietly, in the background , and now could be just the right time for government departments and agencies to look again at e-invoicing.

There’s been a slow but steady evolution in P2P technology over the last decade. You might, like many, make the mistake of thinking there’s nothing new – it the same old message packaged in a different way. “Cloud” for example – we used to call that software as a service or SaaS – or was it service oriented architecture, SOA? And “intelligent data capture” – isn’t that the same as OCR or “optical character recognition”? In a way you’d be right – these are the same messages but it’s not just the packaging that has changed.

The stability, security, maturity, scale and sophistication of these solutions as developed – these solutions have changed beyond recognition – and what’s more – the costs have come down and real benefits are being delivered. Heartlands NHS Trust has saved an estimated £140,000 by deploying a Readsoft invoice data capture solution integrated to their Oracle e-Business suite. And Anglian Support Partnership, an NHS Shared Service organisation that processes in excess of 450,000 paper invoices per year, expects to be able to eliminate 70% by using using a cloud based solution from Tradeshift to receive invoices electronically.

These are non-trivial business benefits that make a significant contribution to public sector finance. The mixed experience in attempting to derive savings fro P2P technologies from a few years ago shouldn’t necessarily be used as a reason for inaction. The world has changed and it’s time to look again at e-invoicing.