EU Commission draft directive reopens the debate on e-invoicing standards

EU Commission draft directive reopens the debate on e-invoicing standards

Question: When is an standard not a standard? Answer: When there’s loads of them. In Europe, there’s more e-invoicing standards than there are languages spoken so, when the EU Commission in it’s draft directive on e-invoicing in public sector calls for more consideration into developing a common standard, is it suggesting we need more?

I spoke to Mikkel Hippe Brun, Chief Strategy Officer at Tradeshift, to get his thoughts.

Purchasing Insight logoMikkel is an expert on e-invoicing and has spent the last decade immersed in the  world of e-invoicing standards in Europe. He was part of the team that developed and delivered public sector e-invoicing in Denmark so his insights are especially valuable.

“It’s great that the EU commission is leading this initiative to encourage the use of electronic invoicing in Europe,” he explained “but it’s frustrating that they seem to believe we need to start thinking about developing standards. We’re way past that stage already.”

I tend to agree. E-invoicing is already mature as a concept and a technology. Now isn’t the time to go back to the drawing board.

“In Denmark, it took us over 2 years to go from the drawing board to going live,” explained Mikkel. “Then there was further years to get it refined and mature. If the EU want to see e-invoicing in use by 2016, we need to take existing best practice and select a single standard, not start to develop something new.”

This is quite an assertive approach, but I’m not entirely sure that a single standard is possible or even desirable. EDI is very mature and that has multiple standards. Indeed, one of Europe’s other experts in this field, Markus Hornburg from OB10, recently tweeted: “Single invoice #standard? Example Mexico? One #invoice standard but hundreds of industry addenda. Get real EU! Not even Brazil managed”

Mikkel doesn’t agree. “Bear in mind that EDI covers much more than just invoice messages. When it comes to invoices, the Denmark experience and the Tradeshift experience has taught us that the right standard can be used universally. One standard is enough.”

Whether Mikkel is right or not about a single standard, there is one thing for sure, the EU can afford to be a little more aggressive in its approach. By lifting the lessons learned in the Nordics as well as taking a leaf out of the Latin American book, Europe can up it’s game on electronic invoicing.

Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin

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