Electronic Invoicing

The first golden rule of business: "Thou shalt not committee". Decisions made by committee are compromises - almost by definition and in an attempt to satisfy everyone, no one is satisfied. Democracy is overrated. This is how the EU Commission does things, or at least it appears how to do things. We see it all the time. Discussions about e-invoicing standards and interoperability - recommendations to industry made by a mixture of biased vendors and the independent, self-appointed Messiahs of e-business. It's no wonder the rest of us look on in dismay at some of the misguided nonsense that emerges. And the timing? Decisions made by committee take an age. By the time decisions are made the world has changed and it’s back to square one. But it's not always like that

This week, Berlin hosted the 8th EXPP conference - the largest e-invoicing conference of this kind in the world. An eclectic mix of solution vendors, thought leaders and experts from no less than 36 countries, it's a melting pot where friendships are forged, partnerships positioned and, for a couple of days, commercial rivalries put to one side to advance the cause of common sense in business. EXPP isn't like most conferences. There are very few potential buyers and as a lead generation opportunity for solution providers it would not be considered a great success but the fact that exhibitors come back year after year speaks volumes for the value of the event.

Operating on a global basis can be tough. American companies trying to port solutions across the pond for example, find out very quickly that what works in the US does doesn't necessarily fit in Europe. Just because we speak the same language (almost) and just because we have a similar culture, doesn't mean the local idiosyncrasies can be ignored. And this is especially true with e-invoicing. The rules for e-invoicing are different from country to country. Even within the European Community where the rules are supposed to be the same - they're different. A global solution has to accommodate local needs. That's why it's good to see Tradeshift continue to grow globally by thinking local.

I once lived in a house with a large kitchen with a white tiled floor that was difficult to keep clean. Dark colored soles on shoes would leave unsightly marks and even the slightest spillage would stand out like a sore thumb. We quickly got used to it however and we learned to remove our shoes and clean it very regularly.  The downside of the white floor was that we needed to work hard to keep it clean. The upside was it was spotless. An operating theater in a hospital was no cleaner. You could have safely performed open-heart surgery in our kitchen. Most people don’t choose white floors or carpets especially if you have young kids or pets. Darker colors or patterns camouflage the reality of life and it’s easier to live with a few grubby marks if you can’t see them and it’s exactly the same when organizations specify their business technology solutions. They specify solutions that fit in with the realities of a complex set of business process and design a solution that fits in with that. And quite right too you may say but I’d disagree. Sometimes you need a white carpet solution.

The reason we founded Tradeshift goes all the way back to a very specific moment in 2005. At that time I was a student in the policy department of the Danish Ministry of Science, IT and Innovation. I was reading about a new law in the making and I could not believe what it said. The government was about to deploy a combined scanning and electronic invoicing solution for their 200,000 suppliers. That was not the problem. The problem was they had picked solutions that cost suppliers on average €2 per invoice. I was stunned. Who would pay more to send something electronically than on paper?

The problem with start-ups is they’re start-ups. For large organizations, it’s a difficult choice to go with a relatively new business even if their business model stacks up, which makes securing new business doubly difficult. And it makes the early years of a start-up the most challenging. Investors and industry observers know this and slow growth and moderate sales figures are expected but even with a great proposition, world class marketing and favourable write-ups from bloggers and analysts, there comes a point when the business model needs proving. We need to taste the pudding. Which is why we’re delighted to see the latest announcement from Tradeshift.

There’s been something in the air all year electronic invoicing. There has been before but this time it’s different. Exciting developments in Latin America as government mandate its use and European government following suit. The market research conducted by Paystream Advisors in collaboration with Purchasing Insight shows some exciting growth evidence (some of which will be presented at EXPP in Berlin in a few weeks) and it’s all backed up by an increasing number of new win announcements, the latest of which comes from OB10. It has just been announced that Australian building products company CSR has selected OB10,  to offer electronic invoicing to its 10,000 suppliers.