Sunday, August 17, 2008

Paper invoices have NO future

It is evident - paper invoices will disappear from the business to business and business to government sectors and then later in practise also in the business to consumer/government to citizen area.  The 5 mega-class reasons are exceptionally powerful and clear to see. Everyone will benefit - especially the consumers and tax payers.

It is only a question of time. And how this can be very short.

In the EU Expert Group work it is becoming clear that there are two domains:

1. Mindset

Once the mindset is that there is NO future for this wasteful practise things will start to happen. And it is already - public sectors in 6 countries and many progressive enterprises have declared e-invoicing mandatory (with near or already passed deadlines). 10 more EU-countries have similar plans. As these heavy duty players defacto force invoice senders to take the step and the market has come up with the needed open standards and economical tools it is inevitable that e-invoicing will be used in all directions. Paper invoices will quickly become an oddity.

Spreading the awareness that paper invoices have NO future is clearly the top priority.

2. Removing obstacles and increasing enablers for a wider unified market

Much of the progress happening now is by necessity countryspecific. Nothing wrong with that - on the contrary - efforts towards moving with the slowest should be firmly resisted. Interoperabity is not that difficult to achieve and move to the coming common mass market standard will anyway take time.

But for those who realize how much the continuos improvement in the wellbeing of European citizens is dependent on unifying European markets it is evident that firmer action should be taken also in the crossborder dimension of this omnipresent - and thus so potential document. Economic strength is both a question of scale and today even more of moving faster into the technology-enabled innovation space.

Some argue that the share of crossborder invoices out of the total number of 30 billion is so small that there is limited needs for EU efforts. Here one should remember that the very reason for both payments and invoicing being so local and fragmented has been national regulation and infrastructure. Now we are moving towards one-bank-account-being-enough for all of the €-area. What could be the reason for it not being possible to send invoices in the same way?  With the right mindset it should not be particularly difficult. But of course it takes the right attitude:

1. the e-invoicing service  must be irresistably easy to use for the 24m SMEs (just like payments are starting to be)

2. there must not - in the base case - be any  need to invest or install software - just a template in a secure environment - this makes both the knowledge and financial threshold disappear

3. all services where authenticity and integrity is on an acceptable level must be accepted - technology-neutrality (no mandatory PKI seriously adding cost and complexity)

4. electronic documents should not be treated essentially differently from paper documents - they are anyway automatically more safely transmitted and have traceability (the opportunity to fight fraud should naturally be used by creating rules for the network)

Excellent progress is being made - but there is naturally much more to do. But it all starts with the mindset - understanding the inevitability and the reasons for why it should really be speeded up and contribute to a stronger Europe sooner rather than too late.


Loviisa said...

So true. It is amazing how some of the biggest actors in IT industry can be the hardest ones to entice into sending e-invoices. Though you´d think they are on the forefront of promoting the new way of handling such compulsory accounting material.

Still waiting for the truly (or even remotely) paperless office.

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