e-Invoicing – more on last week’s summit plus some fundamental questions

Last week we featured an e-invoicing summit / roundtable, on adoption of e-invoicing in the UK public sector. We got a couple of interesting and lengthy comments from two providers – Ronald Duncan from Cloudbuy (formerly @UK PLC)  and Nigel Clifford of Procserve. There’s a bit of ‘selling’ in both comments, but they’re worth reading.

Both made interesting points – Duncan points out the work his firm is doing in several sectors, including universities, to increase e-enablement, and points out that for all Denmark is held up as a beacon of e-invoicing, their wider e-enablement is nothing special. “Our good implementations are a long long way ahead of Denmark and Mexico” he says.

Clifford highlights the lack of pace in public sector adoption compared to private and suggests some reasons.

Whatever the reason, the friction in current 20th century methods is absorbing public money and needs addressing. I think the room hoped the EU directive and 2016 deadline would be a ‘cliff edge’ to force change… however, it looks more like a gentle slope as ratifying standards and ‘transposition’ processes add years more to the date!

Now Pete Loughlin of Purchasing Insight is a real expert in these matters, and he is part of a review team now looking at the issue through a UK Parliamentary Inquiry on e-invoicing. You can read his summing up of their first hearing here.  In it, he quotes something I said from the roundtable.

“How can you possibly mandate that electronic invoices be sent to organisations that can barely process paper invoices properly?” asked Peter Smith. (I paraphrase.) And what exactly do we mean by a mandate? Mandate what? A standard? A particular solution”?

Now, let’s explore this a little more. Because of course you could mandate e-invoicing (bearing in mind that point about what exactly you are mandating) even if the current state is very primitive in some government organisations. They would just have to pull their socks up and get moving!

But my point wasn’t so much the difficulty of organisation making that step. What I think I was trying to say was more around the reasons why perhaps the government hasn’t seemed keen to mandate. As we’ve said more than once before, central government in particular is not sophisticated in this field. The shared service centres (SSCs), or certainly the one in Newport, still operate on the basis of suppliers sending paper invoices through the post.

So my feeling was – and is – that Cabinet Office may be hesitant about taking a lead in this area until they have put their own house in order. Now a joint venture has recently been announced between Cabinet Office and Steria for that Newport SSC, so let’s hope those process improvements will be high on Steria’s list of priorities. If they can do that quickly, then maybe we will see more leadership form the centre of government.

The other point which  struck me during the roundtable is this question of the wider end to end process. Can you have an e-invoice without a purchase order number? If that is the case, how can you trace the budget holder / authoriser without a PO number (and without even a physical invoice to send around the office with a note saying “anyone know anything about this”)?

 If you insist on a PO number, does that mean a “no PO, no payment” policy is an essential condition for e-invoicing? Does that mean mandating e-invoicing in effect means mandating a fully controlled, end to end, no PO, no pay process?

This is all stuff I should have thought of before, to be honest, but at last week’s session it hit me that e-invoicing can’t be looked at as a standalone issue. We have to consider the wider P2P process. So more on this, I'm sure, in 2014.

Voices (2)

  1. Thomas:

    Re: “The other point which struck me during the roundtable is this question of the wider end to end process. Can you have an e-invoice without a purchase order number? If that is the case, how can you trace the budget holder / authoriser without a PO number (and without even a physical invoice to send around the office with a note saying “anyone know anything about this”)?”
    e-Invoices can not be considered the panacea for all (sloppy) business-processes. If you can’t trace the budget holder, you use either your workflow to trace him, or you send an electronic copy of the e-Invoice to your usual suspects.

  2. Ian Burdon:

    No arguments from me with that Peter!

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