News Analysis

E-invoicing could help firms through recession

Karl Flinders

E-invoicing could help businesses cut costs as they brace themselves for recession.

The technology is moving to the mainstream as the European Commission pushes it as part of its drive to cut costs in supply chains.

The Corporate Action on Standards project, set up by the European Payments Council, said that e-invoicing allows companies to cut the average EUR30 cost of processing a paper invoice by 80%.

Businesses that want to take advantage of e-invoicing can do it themselves, use an e-invoicing service provider or work with their banks.

Stefan Foryszewski, senior vice-president at e-invoicing service provider OB10, says businesses are looking at e-invoicing but only "the more enlightened ones."

"The market is still fairly immature but awareness is beginning to grow," he says.

Forysewski advises businesses moving to e-invoicing to ensure that their enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are compatible with the system they chose. They must ensure the system they chose can be easily integrated with all suppliers. And they must ensure they comply with the taxation laws in the different regions they receive invoices from.

Building an e-invoicing system is challenging for companies to do on their own and the capital investment required may be hard to justify as the economy slows.

DHL began rolling out an electronic invoicing and payment system from Accountis in July last year. The project aims to save millions of pounds across Europe by reducing billing costs by 15%.

Brian Thumwood, e-billing programme manager at DHL, says the company chose a third-party supplier to avoid the risks of building its own system. "We looked at doing it ourselves but the complexities associated with the legal structure in different countries and the technology made us work with a supplier."

Businesses only need minimal technology in place to use a third-party service, such as dedicated servers, a connection to the e-invoicing service, and the use of workflow systems.

Peter Ratcliffe chairman of Accountis points out that many e-invoicing suppliers have been bought up by larger businesses which means their software is no longer commercially available. For example, E-invoicing software providers Harbor Payments and Xign were acquired by American Express and JP Morgan respectively in 2007. As a result, companies that set up their own e-invoicing services would have to write their own software, he says.

Banks are using e-invoicing service providers to create their own services. Abbey launched a corporate e-invoicing service in July last year in partnership with e-invoicing network provider OB10, as part of a service to offer finance to supply chains.

Tom Crowe, director of sales and delivery financial supply chain solutions at Abbey Corporate Banking, says take up of e-invoicing is slow because it is a new concept in the UK.

But he said that businesses will take it up because of the savings that can be made. "Anything they can do to make businesses more efficient they are keen to look at particularly in a period of economic uncertainty," he says.

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has announced that the first customers of its e-invoicing system, provided by Accountis are going live this month.

In the current economic climate an 80% reduction in the cost of a paper invoice will be attractive to business managers attempting to cut unnecessary costs. IT departments must, however, decide how they are going to implement e-invoicing to maximise the return on investment.

What is E-invoicing?

E-invoicing is an alternative to Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) as a method of dealing with supply payments electronically. It also helps get the best out of ERP systems by automatically putting more accurate information into the systems.

E-invoicing uses the internet to connect businesses with their suppliers and automates the processing of invoices in accounting systems. It speeds up payment times, improves the information in ERP systems, reduces the human resources required and eradicates inputting errors. It also cuts postage costs and reduces waste paper.

EDI is a point-to-point computer connection between a business and a supplier which uses a network provider to process transactions. Large businesses use this method to connect with their major suppliers.


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