09 Dec 2013 Britain to “lead the world” in electronic invoicing
Only last week, Martha Lane Fox stepped down as UK “digital champion”, a role in which she tried to encourage central and local government to get people online. While her efforts were applauded, there is some doubt as to how effective those efforts were.
David Cameron’s Conservative party came under criticism recently when it decided to delete all pre-2010 speeches including the speech that Prime Minister himself stated that the internet would help hold politicians to account.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the UK government had gone soft on the digital agenda. But you’d be wrong.
While the G2C (Government to Citizen) agenda may seem somewhat confused, the politicians appear to have no doubt about the importance of their role in encouraging the B2B digital agenda and today, Mathew Hancock MP, opening the UK National e-invoicing Forum (UKNeF) Roundtable event: Creating an Interoperable Ecosystem for Government & Business, claimed in no uncertain terms that he did not want to see the UK lag behind. The Minister of State for Innovation and Skills stated the Government’s commitment saying that Britain would “move from the middle of the pack ” to “lead the world” in e-invoicing.
15 years ago when “e-government” was moving from being a buzzword to an actual thing, there was a digital elite. They were the people who used the internet – people who had a computer at home. Today, almost everyone is part of the digital elite. Excepting the very old who are never now going to get on-line, we all use digital services on a daily basis. The massive growth in social media use, like Facebook and and ubiquity of the internet has got people on-line much more rapidly than the worthy efforts of any digital champion. Martha Lane Fox didn’t fail, but neither did she succeed. The growth in online usage was happening anyway – organically.
Governments world-wide – not just the UK – can take little credit for the growth in adoption of the internet. But that is not to say that they cannot be instrumental in influencing directly the use of digital techniques to further the business to business agenda.
Business interactions – all of them – are regulated. Businesses are constrained by local and international laws and conventions. This is why businesses use paper processes. It’s not because they want to be inefficient it is because, historically, they have been required to do so. Simply relaxing the requirements to use paper can’t change things. The complex supply chain infrastructure that exists is too closely interdependent for fundamental change to happen spontaneously – however beneficial that might be.
The business change that we would all welcome, the move towards universal digital interactions, requires a push and we are seeing more and more evidence that the UK government is understanding this. The UKNeF has played an important role in raising the profile of e-invoicing and the Parliamentary Committee led my Stephen McPartland which sits this week will further highlight the importance of digital maturity and the important role that governments can play in supporting economic growth by encouraging the use of e-invoicing.
Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin