04 Jul 2011 It’s not about becoming as “e” as possible
It’s some time since I heard anyone claim that a pdf invoice was an electronic invoice – but people used to. Fundamentally missing the point of “e-anything” it seemed, some organisations would claim to be embracing the 21st century by replacing paper with pdfs. Fantastic! Well it would be if they didn’t print the soft copies in order to process them. This is not a joke. Even today, in 2011, I know of a bank – a global bank – that does just this. It’s pathetic!
Then there was the attempt at moving to e-invoicing by scanning paper invoices and using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to extract data. This, to be fair, wasn’t an attempt at e-invoicing but it was an attempt to automate accounts payable. Unfortunately, this approach was nowhere near as successful as had been hoped. Based on templates, the scanning and OCR software had to be taught how to read invoices, where to find a company’s logo and where to find the relevant data to read. The OCR was pretty accurate but as soon as a supplier changed their invoice format, the scanner would have to be retaught. The same with new suppliers and as for foreign languages – forget it!
It’s not surprising then that there are those that pour scorn on the idea that we should use pdf invoices and OCR to meet our e-invoicing targets. They believe that an electronic invoice is a and electronic message containing invoice data in a structured format sent from one computer to another.
It’s not about becoming as “e” as possible
There’s two reasons why we no longer need to think of e-invoices as only EDI or XML style structured messages and exclude OCR and pdfs. The first reason is simple and it is this: Technology has moved on. It can do more today than 10-15 years ago. There is no longer any need to dumb the message down. A pdf file is a structured message. If it wasn’t, the software wouldn’t be able to render it and if was truly unstructured we wouldn’t be able to make sense of it. A pdf invoice was not thought of as an electronic invoice – not because it wasn’t structured – but because it wasn’t structured enough. Modern day software and intelligent data capture techniques can deal with the relatively complex nature of a pdf file – not as easily and with a lower level of accuracy than a pure e-invoice for sure – but at levels of accuracy that make it worth while.
Second reason – who cares! It’s not about becoming as “e” as possible. Our aim is not to maximise our use of e-invoices – it is to minimise our costs of processing – which means automation. Whether we use really clever software to automate the processing of complex electronic files or simple software to automate the processing of simple files – it doesn’t matter.
Of course, e-invoices in the traditional sense are superior to soft copies. The automation process is simpler , there is less to go wrong and the levels of accuracy are better – but as a second best option that works where electronic invoicing won’t , intelligent data capture should be taken seriously.(For invoice management solutions that employ and intelligent data capture approach consider Brainware, Kofax , Readsoft and others)