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E-Invoicing in 7 Steps

Step One: Know your 'as-is' process:

I knew all too well in my days of selling e-invoicing, that if a prospect didn't know their 'as-is' process, they were a good 12 to 24 months from implementing e-invoicing. So don't skip Step One.

If you don't know your process, you probably don't know key metrics like your First Time Match Rate. This means you won't know the degree to which e-invoicing might help you (and you may have problems in your process which need other solutions, as well).

And, you probably don't know the true cost of your invoicing process, and therefore will not be able to put together a water-tight business case.

By mapping out your 'as is' process you will come to understand:

  • Why invoices fail
  • How e-invoicing can remedy problems in your process flow
  • How many invoices would be 'in scope' should you proceed with e-invoicing
  • What your 'as-is' cost is, and how much it will go down by moving to electronic
  • How many days it's currently taking to process an invoice, and how e-invoicing would reduce the time
  • How, by reducing the number of days, your capturing of negotiated discounts might be favorably effected
Step One is likely to take you 3 to 6 months, but by the end of it you'll be clearer and more realistic when you make your business case.

Importantly, knowing your cost-per-transaction is essential for negotiating effectively with the provider you end up signing.

Step Two: Know the vision of the company:

Process change makes sense to stakeholders when it is contextualized against the overarching ambitions of the company.

This means it's worth taking the time to understand where the company wants to be in 6, 12 or 24 months' time, and you can extrapolate that intention back to how e-invoicing might accelerate or bolster the realization of that goal. Take the time to lift yourself from the 'day to day' and understand where the company is headed. (Ask lots of questions, and really listen to the answers.) Then you can:

  1. Understand and communicate the wider purpose of e-invoicing and position e-invoicing as a key enabler for realizing goals
  2. Use the language of the senior management to present e-invoicing back to them
  3. Move e-invoicing up the priority list
This endeavor requires planning, and an investment of time outside your day job, but it will pay off down the road, when your CFO and CPO and CTO (Chief Treasury Officer) see e-invoicing as their single point of failure.

Step Three: Get procurement on board early

This is easier for an organization where Finance and Procurement are already aligned, already share reporting lines and objectives, and operate as one team.

But in organizations where this 'joined-upness' doesn't exist, it's common for Finance to own the project, because they get the more immediate gains, and involve Procurement almost as an afterthought. This can kill the project on the spot.

This is largely because e-invoicing is a supplier-focused program, and even though Finance, or rather Accounts Payable, pays suppliers, they are actually owned by Procurement. This means suppliers will listen to Procurement regarding the e-invoicing project first, and finance second. So if procurement are not brought in, or are at all dismissive of e-invoicing, your suppliers will feel this mood, and drag their heels in signing up.

This is perhaps the key to getting e-invoicing right, and so easily overlooked as a small detail. It's not. It will make - or catastrophically break - your project.

When working with Procurement, consider the following:

  • Drivers - why are we doing e-invoicing?
  • Scope - all suppliers, invoice types, AP transaction types, countries?
  • Solution scope - just e-invoicing or an end to end solution?
  • Message - mandatory or optional?
  • Quality of the database - will the comms 'land on the right desk'?
  • Signatory - how senior will the signatories be? The CPO and the CFO? (Ideally, yes.)
  • Targets - are Finance and Procurement KPI'd on the same targets?
  • The non-compliant - who will respond to the suppliers that resist?
  • Who will own the project? Perhaps Finance and Procurement together?
Investing time in seeking out a partnership from Procurement early on is fundamental to a successful project.

Step Four: Give the project a name

You will likely find that the nameless projects stay in project status for a long time, and rarely move to operational or 'go live'. This is not a coincidence.

By giving your e-invoicing project both a pre- and post- contract name, you:

  1. Give it an identity which helps people 'get it'
  2. Create interest and curiosity ('what is this Globe project everyone's talking about?')
  3. Avoid confusion because you're all talking about the same thing
  4. Heighten engagement and inspire greater emotional attachment, especially, I find, if you stay away from the obvious like Globe, Probe, e-Procurement Project - all decent names, but how about something more fun, like names of characters from movies or fiction? Or having a competition (with a really good prize) to come up with the most creative name?
Step Five: Know what you're shopping for

What do you want? Is it a best-of-breed e-invoicing solution? Is it e-invoicing with dynamic discounting? Is it e-invoicing with workflow and routing, or an e-procurement functionality for your upstream procurement process? Do you need it to be VAT compliant and language sensitive because you are rolling out across multiple countries? And do you need to use their onboarding capabilities? (This is always advisable.)

Knowing what you want, and then capturing these requirements in a document is key.

You will have:

  • Commercial and business requirements
  • Process requirements
  • Scope requirements (impacting the legal treatment and the languages supported)
  • IT requirements (but these are probably weighted lightly, as all e-invoicing solutions I know of are system agnostic)
  • Resource or/and timing requirements
Then make sure that the companies you invite to respond to the RFP all offer similar-ish services, so you are not comparing one solution type against another completely different solution type in order to make a decision.

Step Six: Determine the cost of delayed-implementation

Quantifying the cost of doing nothing - 'continuing as per', and having this as a daily, weekly, monthly and annual figure, will help drive a deadline.

It's advisable to build this figure with the main stakeholders, so they all agree on it, and understand that, allowing the project to slip by a month is actually costing the company X.

Having the daily figure will help drive the pace of the project.

Step Seven: Follow the best practices of the provider

The provider you end up selecting will have likely rolled out 20 - 100 e-invoicing programs (if it is one of the bigger providers like Tungsten, Ariba, Taulia or Tradeshift). This means you will be benefiting from their experience, which is now structured, and documented.

Some providers swear by their best-practices so much that they attach a guarantee to their invoice conversion.

Best practices will include advice like "clean your suppler data, or let us clean it", "have procurement sign off on the communication", "be available and ready to respond when some suppliers say they won't comply with the request".

The sharespace e-invoicing hub centralizes our e-invoicing content. From preparation and roll out, to benchmarking and continuous improvement, the entire e-invoicing journey is covered in a range of content, including webinars, articles, and survey studies.