Expert Group on e-invoicing: a flop?

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22 December 2009
The European Commission has set up an expert group (EG) on e-invoicing with the task to establish a European Electronic Invoicing Framework by 2009. Last November the group published its final report, and I am already hearing comments that argue on the merit (and, consequently, on the substance) of the document. Apparently a number of political issues have "polluted" the work of the group, leading to counterintuitive decisions objected by some group members themselves (read ‘Annex 2-Dissenting minority opinion’ in the report). While waiting for the results of the call for consultation, where "Contributions are particularly sought from SMEs, large enterprises, service providers, standardisation bodies and public authorities", it is my feeling that we will hardly read the harsh comments I collected just in the past few days from corporate and vendor representatives: • The EG had a shallow 3% corporate representation. It was all banks, politicians, and vendors. • The final report conclusions penalize innovators and give time to laggards to catch up. There is a creeping suspect of “hidden agendas” and potential conflicts of interest. • The results did not match the objective to “contribute to the removal of current barriers to the take-up and establishment of intra-community (crossborder) e-Invoicing solutions” (source: Mandate Of The Expert Group On E-Invoicing). That is, the proposed e-invoice content standard, the UN/CEFACT Cross-Industry Invoice (CII), is way to be a de-facto international standard. Most optimistic predictions see its maturity not before than 2012. • Why not use UBL as an interim content standard? It does work and it is used, for instance, in the PEPPOL project, another EU initiative to facilitate EU-wide interoperable public eProcurement, where electronic invoicing plays a prominent role. • There is no mention of actionable items that can be implemented immediately. Especially SMEs are left with no guidance on what they could do while all the recommendations in the report are implemented. Bottom line: The lack of clarity and the suspects of conflicts of interest will force corporates to slow down/ stop investing in e-invoicing projects. From their side, corporations must take a more proactive role and refuse the temptation to let others “do the work”. SEPA has proven that failure is behind the corner when some stakeholders do not participate since the beginning to initiatives that impact their financial supply chain (i.e., payments in the case of SEPA; invoices in the case of the Expert Group). I’d love to read your opinion and feedback.

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