Insight from OB10 on e-invoicing implementation

We wrote recently – and positively – about the new OB10 guide to e-invoicing, titled “The Supplier Engagement Handbook”, and available free here. It contains a lot of very sensible and experience based advice, provided by Jo Harris, the Director of Program management at OB10.

I had a chat with Harris the other day, and had the chance to ask her a few questions about the handbook. She’s been at  OB10 since 2005, and was at Cable and Wireless (CW) before that, with experience in both  Finance and project management. Indeed, at CW she wrote the business case for e-invoicing and then worked with OB10 who were CW’s supplier as they implemented the e-invoicing project.

That’s a good background for what she does now, giving her a real understanding of both the benefits and the challenges that clients face. She initially ran the OB10 project management team in Europe, then “went global” – there are now 7 project managers in Europe, 3 in the US and 1 in Kuala Lumpa, plus small support teams in Sofia and KL.

Thanks for making the time Jo – can I start by asking whether some of the benefits of e-invoicing typically get underestimated?

The benefits in finance are usually pretty clear, savings in AP department from  people and reduced process costs. But procurement tends to under-estimate the benefits, they often see just more work for them to do - encouraging suppliers to come on board and so on. But there are benefits in procurement too, such as reduction in queries and hassle from suppliers. There can even be direct price benefits - good payment processes can be used positively to negotiate better contracts.

Do people under-estimate the difficulty of introducing e-invoicing?

They tend to look at it as a project. They understand it needs a team, technical work, communications -  but they under-estimate the ongoing change that is needed - this is a lifestyle change.  My analogy is going on a diet. It won't work unless you change your whole lifestyle! This is the business equivalent, the whole philosophy has to be embedded into your business process, for instance you have to set supplier expectations at purchase order stage and even before.

It's an attitude of mind, not necessarily incurring costs, but it has to be embedded into the way you do business with suppliers. So we need to remind clients of the ongoing benefits – and they need to remind their suppliers.

Is that in part the fault of e-invoicing solution providers? Do some make it all sound very easy – for obvious reasons?

That may be true at times. We can make it sound easy – but it does need to be properly considered, and the right resource put into it. We can help of course with templates, methodologies, and our project management toolkit - which took 12 months to develop.  And you must have the right input from different parts of the organisation.  That's one reason we wrote this guide. There’s no reason why this can’t work, we know we can help clients through it, but they need to understand what it takes. We have long term relationships with clients, so we’re honest with them from the start about what they have to do!

What would be your 2 or 3 absolutely key bits of advice then?

Firstly, get senior support from top procurement executives (and the same in finance of course).

Then, starting with reasonable supplier data is key to the communication with the supply base - put effort in up front to obtain and cleanse at least the basic supplier data.

 

Do you have any good horror stories – something you’ve seen people do that made you go “oh my goodness”?

The most frustrating times are when communications go out to suppliers without deadlines – “let suppliers make their own mind up” – and of course it just doesn’t happen. If there's no deadline, it just doesn’t look important.

 

Have you any experience of difference between public and private sector programmes – do the same  issues apply?

The messaging is very different – big private sector firms can tell, not sell. The public sector tends to be more nervous about bad publicity, so are more cautious about “telling” suppliers. A more persuasive approach is needed perhaps. But once they’re into it, once suppliers come on board, they tend to see the benefits and the implementations are quite similar.

And finally, how do you feel about the OB10 / Tungsten venture?

We're re-assuring clients it is business as usual – and I'm really looking forward to new services like the spend analytics, not just the financing piece. It's very exciting!

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