The last bit of my day today was chairing a discussion on e-invoicing. This is a regular debating slot I host on the IBM booth each year, and it’s now in its third year. This afternoon’s debate included Charles Bryant, former Chairman of the EPC and now working on e-invoicing with the EBA, and Bo Harald who chairs the European Commission’s e-invoicing working group.
It shocks me that e-invoicing has now been on my radar since 2004 and yet it’s not much further on. With bank margins being slashed thanks to SEPA and other competitive forces, you would think the value-adding services to corporates, such as e-invoicing, would be way up there on top of the agenda.
And yet, I don’t see it.
I see a few banks doing stuff and, as Bo said, six of the EU nations mandating that e-invoices must be used but, apart from a few isolated examples, it is still small beans with 95% of EU invoices being processed on paper.
With 24 million small businesses in the EU, and the cost of invoicing being around €50 to process for an average paper invoice, this is ludicrous. But who am I to judge?
What was interesting for me is that out of this debate a new angle appeared. The audit angle.
If EU banks and corporates are serious about compliance, the fact that the electronic trail of an invoice from origination through delivery to processing will be a critical reason for change. After all, if you can track the e-invoice and its associated Purchase Orders, Delivery Documentation and Remittances, you now have a perfect e-trail for the audit and tax office. Compare that with the bits of lost and dog-eared papers that most firms produce today and you can see why, in about five years, everyone anticipates half of all invoicing will be processed electronically.
After that debate I was immediately out of the conference anyway, as I was serious. I’m off to the opera house to see Verdi’s La forza del destino with Nina Stemme, Carlos Alvarez, Marcello Giordani and Ain Anger.
Because Vienna hosts one of the best opera houses in Europe and, with parties and dinners all week, I thought I’d be a good boy tonight.
That’s another day!