OB10 operation in the United States, OB10 have just posted record revenues in their financial year just closed. Figures for year ending April 30, 2013 show revenues generated from new buyer customers increased by 56% and the number of new suppliers on the network increased by 46% over the previous year. OB10 believe that the rise in new buyers and suppliers demonstrates that US corporations continue to seek efficiencies, streamline business processes, and improve their use of cash. That hardly surprising. We think that it's further evidence to support the view that e-invoicing is becoming embedded proven best practice in P2P.
Not announced formally and officially yet but it seems that the decree is written. Italy will introduce mandatory electronic invoicing in 2014. The formal announcement is expected soon.
When Brazil and Mexico embarked on their compulsory electronic invoicing agenda, I was not alone in wondering whether their plans were a little too ambitious. A few years on and I still wonder whether they’re a bit too ambitious but if there’s one thing we’ve learned, those plans aren’t changing. Mandatory e-invoicing is embedded in Latin America and the authorities are demonstrating the resolve and tenacity required to drive this significant change through. And this is what comes to mind when I heard the news that Italy is now embarking on a plan to eliminate paper invoices in public sector by 2015. Is it too ambitious for Italy or is there too much at stake to let it fail?
We would all love to replicate success and when we see new and innovative ideas that disrupt the established order it's exciting to think that we can replicate it. But how do you do that? What's the secret sauce to success?
We've all heard successful people say how their success was as a result of hard work. They deserve their success. They've earned it they say. But if it were true that hard work inevitably led to success, that would mean that those who are less successful work less hard. This is palpably untrue. Being in the right place at the right time, having a head start because of the country you grew up in or as a result of your parentage, possessing wealth and good health are all factors in becoming successful - and so is hard work - but the most important factor of all is good luck. Taking a success story and seeking to reverse engineer it to see how it can be replicated is like speaking to a group of lottery winners and asking them how they did it.
The weapons in the marketer's arsenal are always evolving. In the B2C world there's been a frenzied exploitation of social media but in the B2B domain, it seems there is still some caution as the social media marketing landscape is assessed. There is still a great deal of uncertainty about what does and doesn't work and there have been as many high profile backfires as there have been success stories. What's especially interesting is how some of the tools are being used - not as you might expect.
I've often said, somewhat provocatively, that e-procurement doesn't work. It does work of course but often only in the most straight forward of environments. Keeping the stationery cupboard stocked up isn't the most challenging of business situations and even when you can address lots of spend, getting people to comply is a change management challenge that, in some corporate cultures, is impossible to overcome. Step outside of the office and you face new challenges. How, for example, do you implement a P2P system on a remote construction site where there isn't even a a phone signal never mind a computer network?
These are a couple of examples of the real world situations that are faced by many businesses but they are trivial compared to some where the ability to get goods and services promptly to where they are needed is more than a business issue, it's a matter of life and death.
"We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten."
I wish I'd said that but Bill Gates thought of it first. It's an often quoted piece of Gates wisdom from his book The Road Ahead and anyone who has observed technology for more than 10 years will recognize this phenomenon.
It was a decade and a half ago that we overestimated e-procurement. We said it would eliminate maverick spend, encourage compliant behavior, provide better spend analytics that would facilitate better decisions and save money. The user experience of buying in business would be as easy and intuitive as home shopping. That vision didn't materialize - not immediately in any case. It was harder than we thought. The technology infrastructure we were using wasn't up to the challenge and the theoretic results that we put so much store in didn't play out in practice.
That was then and this is now. We overestimated what could be achieved in the short term but did we underestimate the long term view? Sure we did. Reading the press release from Basware this week launching Basware Purchase it's like reading the predictions of 1997 - the same promises, this time being delivered, but in 1997, we never thought we'd have a full functional procurement app in our pocket.
The business case stacks up. The technology is proven. There’s a potential to save literally $millions. So why are finance people scared of e-invoicing?
Those who have been on the electronic invoicing journey will be familiar with the issue. There’s no objection to e-invoicing per se. The benefits are recognized and the finance and AP teams want to be good corporate citizens but they just can’t bring themselves to do it. “We need to ‘see’ the invoice” they say. “But the ‘invoice’ is the electronic file”, I reply. “Yes” they agree, ”we know that. But we need to be able to see it – even an image of it as it would appear on paper would suffice but we do need to be able to see it”.
They are not being stupid and they are sincere in their concerns. It’s one thing to extol the benefits of eliminating paper but paper invoices are important documents for audit purposes. An auditor may be happy on one level to examine reports from a finance system to understand what is going on but at some stage they may well, and often do, ask to see the underlying legal documents. The actual invoice. And even before the auditor arrives, finance people may want to see actual invoices to get information that would not be included in the electronic invoice itself. Ship from, ship to, bill to addresses for example or hand written addendums. The inability to perform such examinations presents a real objection that has to be overcome for an e-invoice program to be successful.
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