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E-Invoicing: Making it Happen across the UK Public Sector

Guest article by Stephen Carter, Head of e-Invoicing, Basware UK

It is clear that e-invoicing is an essential part of an efficient financial supply chain. But it isn’t simply a matter of sellers emailing invoices to buyers as PDFs – it’s far more. The real public sector savings come from the removal of paper and PDFs from the whole process – from ordering through to invoice capture and processing, approval and posting – even payments. This is an important distinction to make, especially if the UK public sector are to achieve the estimated £2bn in cashable efficiency savings.

The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment (SBEE) Act endorses e-invoicing as beneficial to the UK economy. It will mandate that the public sector supports the new e-invoicing CEN PC\434 standards – possibly as early as 2017. This will force change – but in doing so there is a risk that it isn’t seen for what it is – a key driver of process improvements in the public sector. To make this happen, e-invoicing needs to be seen not as a tactical fix, but as a transformation project.

The recent iGov 2015 survey on e-invoice adoption shows that there is a diverse range of solutions in use by the public sector just to tackle paper invoicing. Furthermore, some clearly recognise the benefits of automating such processes. Yet there is no common approach or clear guidance on how to ‘make e-invoicing happen’. In fact, many struggle to see how they would overcome the five biggest barriers in the adoption of the new e-invoicing standards:

  • Supplier Adoption – how do we get our suppliers on-board and sending electronic invoices from Day 1?
  • Lack of internal resources – with AP and ICT teams stretched to the max, and budgets already stretched – how can this be overcome?
  • Inertia – many feel the current process is good enough and there is no desire to change from within many parts of the business.
  • Building the business case – how can we justify the investment? How do we get exec-buy in for this?
  • Identifying the right technology and provider – how do we keep up with change? What is right for our business?

To help public sector organisations tackle these issues, Basware is currently touring the UK with its “e-Invoicing: Making it Happen” roadshow. The first event took place on February 9th at London’s Globe Theatre where attendees not only got to hear from experts at the UK National e-Invoicing Forum, but they received some top tips from their peers at City of Helsinki and London Borough of Islington on how to address some of these challenges based on their own experiences. For me, some of the key takeaways included:

  • Dedicate sufficient resources to supplier adoption and adopt a straightforward approach to supplier identification
  • Communicate with internal stakeholders and suppliers about the project
  • Recognise that this is a business transformation project enabled by technology
  • Resilient project management & senior sponsorship
  • Provide free access to service for most/all suppliers
  • Ensure choice of connection options suitable for the widest range of suppliers
  • Understand that this change is happening and therefore ensure the technology used is future proof

So, what happens next? I strongly believe that with the proper motivation (i.e. not just responding to the legislation but recognising the benefits in terms of cost savings, improved supplier relationships, on-time payments, fraud prevention etc), the right solutions and greater understanding, the UK stands to leapfrog its European rivals and lead the way in e-invoicing. Not only will it help the public sector remove over £2bn in costs which can be refocused on service delivery, but crucially, it could be a catalyst for growth in the UK economy. How? By simply unlocking the cash tied up in supplier invoices through guaranteed and on-time payment. If that’s not a good reason to “make it happen”, I don’t know what is!