Let’s publish some more on EU e-Invoicing Standardisation

October 10, 2012  |  Electronic Invoicing, Europe, Publications

European e-invoicing is eminent as 1 January 2013 is approaching. While billing service providers are burning up the road with e-invoicing, EU policy makers have been busy lately with delivering several documents. Like the interim results of the EU multi stakeholder forum on e-invoicing. And also a white paper that provides an EU e-invoicing standardisation overview. Adding more pages of text to the soon to be simplified and liberalised European e-invoicing arena.

Educated guess?

Sometimes we get the feeling again that these documents are used to protect vested interests and contain the soon to be unleashed innovations. More in detail: it almost seems that this document is created to counteract the EC approach to not prescribe a single standard. But then again, that is just a hunch. An educated guess if you will.

Let’s take a look a the most recent documents on the EU standardisation approach.

Current EU practices on e-invoicing interoperability

The rapport mentions the following trends in e-invoicing interoperability:

  • Many trading parties in ‘supplier-centric’ environments engage in bilateral connections using unstructured formats (PDFs).
  • Many trading parties in ‘buyer-centric’ environments engage in bilateral connections using sector specific or local structured formats as well as exchange mechanisms.
  • The use of multiple standards for invoice content adds to complexity. Format conversion services provided by service providers mask the underlying problem and associated cost from the ultimate trading parties.
  • Many SMEs often enter bilateral arrangements with their counterparties and/or the latter’s service providers with the consequence that the number of individual arrangements (e.g. bilateral, portals and service providers acting as consolidators) needed to reach all their counterparties, can rise to a level which is hard to manage.
  • At present, service providers typically engage in bilateral interoperability
    agreements with their service provider counter-parts, which create cost and
    complexity. Some multilateral network activity is developing.

9 conclusions

The white paper contains several conclusions. Underneath are the most ‘striking’ and ‘eye-catching’ ones:

  1. It is worth pursuing ‘the debate’ among the various players at a more detailed technical level. The European Multi-stakeholder Forum on e-Invoicing may provide specific requirements and guidance, upon advice of its Activity Group 4.
  2. The future work for the resolution of the outstanding interoperability issues needs to be coordinated.
  3. The multiplicity of e-invoicing standards makes it difficult to converge / migrate to a single and commonly used standard.
  4. And now a very vague one: If interoperability is seen as a condicio sine qua non to establishing growth in ebusiness and e-invoicing then achieving the required interoperability depends on the standards and agreements that are made on various levels between different actors, and on the progress indevelopment, acceptance, implementation and use – which may be subject to different (business) decisions on each of the different layers.
  5. Enforcing standards and agreements by means of regulation and legislation would not be a realistic approach given the multiplicity of existing trade and business scenarios.
  6. If developments in political and legal context are seen as beyond the remit of the participants in the informal meetings, the focus remains on ‘the lower layers’.
  7. The introduction: Nowadays there is no universal standard for invoice content. This is due to the differing needs of industries, geographies and jurisdictions, as well as the existence of legacy systems. These differing needs and historical circumstances have resulted in a huge variety of content standards, and datasets tailored to specific requirements.The conclusion: Therefore standards for invoice content should support the mandatory data elements, a good selection of additional optional data elements and support for the compliance needs of users in relation to VAT and other regulatory requirements.
  8. Service providers are encouraged to use such content standards and data formats (preferably open content standards and data formats) as they require to meet their customers’ needs and to undertake the necessary conversions between them.
  9. The adoption of standards in a network industry is often propelled by their first use in an interoperable network between service providers and large users. Over time such standards and preferably a universal standard are likely to become embedded in software and systems used by the wider community of users.

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