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Four observations on EU policy and the future of e-invoicing

BlogSarah Feurey20.07.2012 Comments (1)Bookmark

Electronic invoicing, Europe, Public sector


If you didn’t join sharesdserviceslink.com’s e-Invoicing Europe conference this month, you missed the discussion on how the European Commission is influencing the market.

This topic doesn’t quite qualify to sit at the heart of the e-invoicing agenda, but it’s an area worthy of keeping your eye on. Susie West moderated the panel discussion and the overarching question was ‘how will EU policy determine the future of e-invoicing?’

The panelists were:

  • Charles Bryant, Vice Chair, European E-Invoicing Service Providers Association (EESPA)
  • Anders Grangård, Co-Chairman, CEN/ISSS Workshop on Electronic Invoices in Europe
  • Olav Astad Kristiansen, Senior Advisor, Project Manager e-invoice, DIFI
  • Kerry Jones, Assistant Director, EU Services Directive Implementation, Department for Business, Innovation & Skills

Here are my observations and key takeaways from the discussion:

Will EU policy determine the e-invoicing future of vendors, buyers and suppliers?

  • The Commission is helping promote e-invoicing by:
    • Looking to simplify and harmonise VAT
    • Supporting interoperability
    • Raising awareness of e-invoicing
  • The European Multi-Stakeholder Forum on e-Invoicing wants to pave the way for a broad-scale adoption and provide a governance framework
  • The Commission is not at the coal face of e-invoicing, and people in the industry should get involved and influence the commission’s decisions
  • The initiatives will likely shape the landscape of e-invoicing, but they won’t determine your future

Conclusion: wheels are in motion, but the Commission is certainly not leading this market. You could argue that they do not fully understand the business application of e-invoicing and are looking at the adoption of electronic payments as a past reference against which to benchmark their treatment of e-invoicing.

Why does the EU care about e-invoicing?

  • The Commission has a strong digital agenda and a strong interest in single market. e-Invoicing supports both of these agendas
  • The Commission cares about VAT, tax audit and tax control. e-Invoicing is a means to ensure revenue is secure and has integrity and this will aid the Commission’s drive to prevent fraud and to ensure business continuity.

Conclusion: These agendas are great. However it would seem that there is no compelling event driving a stronger and more unified voice from the Commission. It was generally agreed that the Commission will become seriously interested in this as a topic once adoption has reached critical mass. Also the representatives driving certain discussions at a Commission level are bureaucrats rather than business leaders. So the context within which they have their discussion are very different to the context businesses (the adopters) have these discussions. You can imagine therefore that the outputs of these discussions are very different.

Will the EU intervene?

  • If the initiatives to promote awareness and harmonisation fail to see traction, don’t be surprised if the EU takes a more proactive approach because they are very committed to this digital agenda.

Conclusion: This sounds positive, but the Commission moves relatively slowly so don’t expect any sudden movement.

What should the private sector do?

  • Big buyers and big billers should be the leading edge of e-invoicing. Enterprises tend to have a communication link to government. Liaising directly with governments of member states helps the cause.
  • It is assumed that once a critical mass of adoption is achieved, the public sector and smaller companies can follow and adopt best practice.
  • Small businesses would often love to use e-invoicing but it needs to be commercially viable for them. The Commission would like the industry to support easy, affordable ways to e-invoice.

My overall conclusions:
It would be great if the Commission supported e-invoicing. It would be great if the Commission was aligned with the corporate world on e-invoicing drivers, issues, and practicalities. It would be ideal if member state governments rolled out e-invoicing programmes to all their suppliers. And it would be great if member state governments spread the e-invoicing word to each of their respective business communities.

But the reality is that none of the above is the case.

There is a way to go as you can clearly tell. For the time being, drive your own agenda and keep an eye on what’s happening at Commission level, but don’t let them determine your pace… you’d be waiting a while for progress.

What is your take on the EU’s policy and the future of e-invoicing?
How far are we from the tipping point?

EU, European Commission, e-invoicing, electronic invoicing, einvoicing, VAT, government

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James R. Clawson Lake Forest iPayables 20.07.2012

Yes there is a considerable long way to go. "Rome wasn't built in a day", neither was E-invoicing. Step by step it is being recognized around the world as the preferred method of payment with many world Organizations and Governments jumping on board the "Electronic Invoicing Bandwagon"!