Importance of Interoperability – key to e-invoice success

mobile phone interoperability@ 150x150 Importance of Interoperability – key to e invoice successImagine a situation where before calling to your friend you would need to first find out what GSM operator he uses. After that you would need to log in to your own GSM operator website and check if this operator has the connectivity to your friend’s operator. And if it doesn’t, you should take a pre-paid SIM card from your friends GSM operator, insert it into your phone and only then you can make a call to your friend. Extremely inconvenient, isn’t it?

Complexity in e-invoicing network

So why do we have sometimes similar complexity in the e-invoicing network? Some can claim it is not so bad, some can claim that there are no similarities between phone call and sending an e-invoice and probably they are right but still…

…there is a long „e-invoicing“ journey to go before sending an e-invoice to your business partner anywhere in the world would be as easy and convenient as making a phone call. There are two business critical aspects to succeed in that: interoperability and addressing.

Importance of interoperability in the “e-invoicing ecosystem”

Banks in SEPA world talk about reachability, we like to talk about interoperability. Interoperability or roaming as some like to call it is about creating a wider ecosystem for customers. In the ideal e-invoice ecosystem any company can send or receive all their e-invoices through the same partner (operator). And it is operator’s responsibility to guarantee the delivery of all invoices. Invoice sending company shouldn’t care which operator his business partner is using or in which format the e-invoice would like to be received. Only then the principal efficiency of e-invoicing can be achieved. Again we can draw a parallel with a simple phone call - you don’t care which mobile operator your friend is using when you call to him abroad, do you?

Ecosystem stands separate from your customer base. Different operators have different competitive offerings in different market segments. You can have simple web-based e-invoice key-in solution for micro companies, very standard ERP connection for medium sized companies or totally customized billing solution for big corporates. Doesn’t matter what is the customer offering, you should have a proper ecosystem supporting that. Big e-invoice receiving corporates shouldn’t be pushing micro e-invoice senders to use an e-invoice sending portal dedicated only for one receiver and having no ecosystem behind it. It will end up with the situation when the same micro e-invoice sender sends 10 invoices in month using 9 different portals and a letter for paper invoice.

We constantly talk about supporting SME-s in the e-invoicing business – good offering and proper ecosystem is a “key” to that. Different business models, different standards and practices are obstacles for building up an ecosystem. European E-Invoicing Service Providers Association (EESPA) has issued its E-invoicing Model Interoperability Agreement in the beginning of this year that should change the situation. Hopefully now e-invoicing operators will sign more roaming deals and interoperability gets better. Discussions around standards to be taken in use are still ongoing.

Addressing – path to success

The other aspect for the success is addressing. Today we use different numbers for e-invoice addressing: D-U-N-S number, GLN number, IBAN account number, VAT number, country specific business registry code etc. Invoice sending company might know several numbers about their business partner but which of them is really needed for e-invoice sending? There is no single internationally spread standard and this makes e-invoice addressing more difficult. There have been several activities in the past for unifying the addressing logic and also generating a central “yellow pages catalogue” for that. Unfortunately - with almost no success.

However, local standards are pretty well defined and also one international – PEPPOL (Pan-European Public Procurement OnLine). Everybody have similar e-invoicing address and by connecting the infrastructure, you can quickly understand which operator the receiver is using. It is like phone calls – you know your friend’s phone number and you call to that. Your operator knows where your friend is at this particular moment through the phone number and guarantees you an access to you friend through a roaming agreement. Now it is only time to take best practice into use and choose the path we want to follow in the future.

It is crucial that e-invoicing operators would develop interoperability and addressing together. Only then the whole e-invoicing ecosystem is able to grow further and e-invoicing can deliver expected efficiency to all parties.

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