Over on Purchasing Insight, Pete Loughlin recently waxed eloquent on the topic of whether or not E-Invoicing should remain free (Pete also slyly hinted at how he wastes time when not consulting on or writing about P2P systems on Farmville, but I'll leave that topic for another day). Brits, as Orwell once observed, all have some spot in their hearts for the pastoral (e.g., gardening and raising chickens), and I suppose Farmville could fill the need in some capacity in this regard, but I digress. More important is how, why, and whether or not basic e-invoicing services will remain free in a few years time. Today, TradeShift, Transcepta, and Pagero, among others, offer free or nearly free e-invoicing connectivity for suppliers.
Where does Pete stand on the issue? For my P2P counterpart across the pond, the most important determining factor for the future of broad-based adoption of e-invoicing, discounting and related capabilities is how various services complement each other and potentially even work better together than apart (rather than extracting fees multiple times for different connectivity hops for document exchange and visibility). For Pete, this is "the heart of what openness, interoperability and the power of free is all about." Specifically, he suggests, "E-invoicing, per se, is not where it's at. E-invoicing is just an important means to an end. It is the value you can extract when you can automate you financial supply chain that is important and it's the value added services that should be charged for."
Hence, if we can make basic e-invoicing free -- or at least free to the supplier -- we open up a world of possibilities based on the two-way and even multi-tier visibility that such connectivity and collaboration can provide. And we'll see vendors sustainably charge for these services either indirectly or directly (or with fees factored into the invoice itself). In the future, Pete suggests that by 2015, this discussion "will have moved on" and "closed networks will look like the 'walled garden' internet offerings of the 1990s." At this point, "the real interest will be the added value services that will grow around the transaction platforms, more supply chain finance models and techniques like gamification to encourage good corporate conduct."
And that, Spend Matters readers, is why we believe that this is a market that promises to go through a transformation and adoption revolution in the next few years unlike any we've seen at the same B2B connectivity scale before, at least since the fax machine. Provided "free" remains at the core of that basic connectivity ringtone for suppliers.