We have in the EU Commission Expert Group on e-Invoicing seen a constant need to stress that the migration away from manual invoicing can only happen if it based on the simplest possible concepts - otherwise the vast SME sector (63% of turnover) will have real counterarguments - to the detriment both for their larger counterparts (including the public sector) and themselves.
A major step in the right direction here is the equal treatment of paper and e-invoices proposed by the EU Commission in the VAT-directive. Mandatory digital signatures for e-invoices have been a major stumbling block both in national markets and for cross border transactions. Removing this obstacle should be should be of highest priority for anyone having the interest of SMEs at heart. Especially as the present state has managed to mystify e-invoicing to a very high degree. Holland already demonstrated that there is no need to postpone transposition of equal treatment - it can be done very fast.
What do you - the SME - then need to do in the many countries where equal treatment is - and in those where it very soon will be - the rule? For the incoming invoice - be it on paper, in e-mail or e-invoice:
1. make reasonably sure that it matches what you have purchased
2. make sure that you pay it to the right account
3. store your accounting documents for 6 years as stipulated by your national legislation. Many alternatives: on paper, on hard disks, burn cds, ask a service provider to do it...so that you can retrieve the material if - in this context - VAT auditors would need it.
When sending invoices - be it on paper, by e-mail or as e-invoice:
1. make sure that it matches your customer's purchase order
2. send the invoice (many receivers already now demand it in structured format - e-mail is not leading to the cost savings needed)
3. store accounting documents as above
Business controls - as described above - are the simple, tested, problemfree and thus sensemaking way to handle integrity and authenticity - the last tax authorities should agree by now. The Code of Pracise - unanimously adopted by the Expert Group - is stating this very clearly - and also that it is natural that service providers will offer additional supplementary non-mandatory tools like digital signatures - for example to protect stored material.
By thinking small we can find a shortcut to economic solutions also for the larger enterprises.