Monday 15th October, 2018
This year the Exchange Summit moved from its home of the last few years in Barcelona, to Berlin. Fortunately the swap of autumnal Mediterranean sunshine for the sharper bite of central European early winter, seemed to do nothing to put off attendees. In fact, numbers seemed to be up this year, and for an event focused on connectivity and interoperability, being in Berlin felt apt. With a deep dive into the legal, compliance and technical issues surrounding einvoicng on a global basis, it’s an event which consistently attracts industry bigwigs from EESPA, PEPPOL and a wide variety of solution providers such as Tradeshift, Cloudtrade, Crossinx and some others that were new to me, such as CharlieIndia, as well as commentators and practitioners. In what could easily be an informative, but fairly dry two days, event CEO, Johannes von Mulert brings it to life by sprinkling the agenda with some excellent practitioner led sessions too.
Begt Nilssen, CEO Pagero and EESPA co-chair kicked off the sessions by stressing the importance of open, interoperable networks and challenged fellow providers to see if it’s a future they can make possible. It’s a topic that the event keeps coming back to because interoperability is the golden chalice which has the capacity to significantly streamline business processes across the world. So far, so simple – but with a host of established regulations and standards, being able to come up with one that’s acceptable to all, remains a headache. But Nilssen pointed out that as we move further into industry 4.0, with end to end connected networks at home as well as in our working lives, the cost for any business of falling behind will be found in poor business decisions and performance. As ever, it’s the quality of the data that’s important. Connected bad data will just get bad things done faster.
So could blockchain be the answer? Well, Maex Ament, founder of Centrifuge, and previously co-founder of Taulia, thinks that it could well be…soon. Data ultimately comes down to trust. Do we trust what it is telling us? Do we trust where it has come from? Can we make accurate decisions based on it? For some organisations, in some countries, being able to answer yes to these questions is a luxury, and being able to do so consistently, may well prove to be the catalyst for driving blockchain use across the globe. Because the blockchain provides a consensus. A single source of truth that no government or other body can interfere with, and therefore, so the theory goes, it’s censorship resistant. Although, as Maex explained, there are some roadblocks ahead around legal restrictions and standards. But he believes it has the capacity to revolutionise the financial supply chain. For example, if we know for sure that a delivery has been made, proof of delivery could instigate payment. No need for an invoice.
And that probably will happen. And for some, it might not even be that long. But for now, most organisations are just getting to grips with the digitisation of their processes. Take Innogy for example, with 42,000 employees and 23 million customers, their disjointed systems no longer provided the clarity of data that the business needed. So with the help of PwC and Tradeshift, GPO Peter Stotzem and the team set out a plan for change. They soon found out that although it was a technology journey, its success depended on relationships – with the suppliers, their chosen solution provider and crucially, with procurement. Once they had the buy in of procurement and the wider business, the programme accelerated rapidly. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of implementing new tech and forget that as with most things, it’s how we connect the people with the problem and the solution that matters most.
And being on the side of the suppliers was something that Ant Persse of Proactis was keen to stress in introducing their new financing solution, with his inspired presentation about his mate “Benji” and his late payment problem. Proactis seem to be a provider with a fresh wind behind its sails, and I’m interested to see where this new string to their bow takes them.
But what would a trip to Berlin be without a night on the tiles – and thanks to Johannes and his team, we were bused to a Weimer Republic inspired evening to let our hair down and don a top hat and rumour has it, a feather bower or two too! On the way back as we bumped along passing reminders of less happy times, and glimpsing the Reichstag with its billowing EU and German flags, the significance of bringing down barriers and promoting free and easy trade, couldn’t have been stronger.