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As we reported in our latest news roundup, Ireland’s Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Procurement, has signed an agreement with OpenPEPPOL. ‘As a PEPPOL Authority member, Ireland will participate in the development and governance of the PEPPOL network. Ireland will now be part of a wider international community that is focused on harnessing digital technology to create opportunities for greater transparency and competition in public procurement, better value for money for the tax payer and reducing the environmental impact of traditional paper-based processes,’ he said.

This is an important step in becoming compliant with the European e-Invoicing Directive due April 2019, which will oblige all public sector bodies to be able to receive electronic invoices.

PEPPOL, Pan European Public Procurement Online (network), is not an e-Procurement platform; in its own words it provides a set of technical specifications that can be implemented in existing e-Procurement solutions and e-Business exchange services to make them interoperable between disparate systems across Europe. It enables trading partners to exchange standards-based electronic documents over the PEPPOL network, such as e-Orders, e-Advance Shipping Notes, e-Invoices, eCatalogues, Message Level Responses, and so on. Its use is governed by OpenPEPPOL, the international non-profit association under Belgian law consisting of both public sector and private members, which is responsible for coordinating the PEPPOL e-Delivery network for e-Procurement and e-Invoicing.

The purpose is for European businesses to deal electronically with any European public sector buyer, thereby increasing opportunities for greater competition for government contracts and providing better value for tax payers’ money. 

Phil Douglas is Managing Director at invoice management specialists Compleat Software, and he gives us his view on the gains of signing up to OpenPEPPOL. 
In 2017, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) adopted the new PEPPOL trading platform to manage its procurement processes. In a nutshell, it enables electronic versions of purchase orders and invoices to be exchanged digitally between buyers and sellers with no manual intervention. 
Many public- and private-sector entities are weighed down by financial administration. Procurement and payments are largely manual processes that take up a lot of time. These manual processes are prone to human error, for example, lost or duplicated invoices. However, where automation has been introduced prior to PEPPOL thus far, there is often an inefficient tangle of different systems and protocols, all struggling to communicate efficiently.

PEPPOL is already available across most of the EU. In fact, we believe it won’t be long before it is adopted as an EU regulation and a government-imposed process. This looks likely to happen before Brexit comes into effect which means that the change in regulation will apply to businesses in the UK too.

While PEPPOL is still a relative unknown in the UK, and in some other European countries, it will likely become a central element of the UK government’s e-Procurement strategy. This will have an enormous impact on suppliers and their financial processes. Once PEPPOL comes into force, these businesses will have to keep digital versions of each invoice. For those more traditionally minded companies, this will require a significant shift in attitude.

The biggest challenge for many businesses will be transforming their current systems and processes to accommodate digital invoices and POs. New technology can be overwhelming and intimidating, but there’s no avoiding it – businesses will have to upgrade their accounts payable processes in line with the PEPPOL requirements.

Fortunately, the benefits far outweigh the frustrations:

Digital efficiency

The way procurement and payment processes are currently handled is, for the most part, incredibly inefficient. The overarching issue is that manual administration is time-consuming. It involves a lot of people chasing a lot of paperwork. What should be a simple PO approval, can take weeks due to a lack of collaboration, transparency and communication.

PEPPOL requires a digital backbone. To meet its requirements, businesses need to rethink their processes and personnel. From a technological perspective, they will have to implement automated invoice and purchase order managing systems which will ultimately help them save time and money.

E-invoicing is much quicker and less risky to manage. With all financial data stored digitally, employees don’t have to chase their colleagues for authorisation or hunt through filing cabinets for important documents. It can all be available and easily accessible from any connected device at any time

A central system that manages, tracks and distributes e-invoices and POs enables businesses and their clients to work faster – and crucially, avoid any disputes thanks to a fully transparent digital record.

21st century skills

PEPPOL will also call for a very different set of skills and influence the type of people businesses need to hire. Repetitive and time-intensive administrative tasks, such as data inputting, will become automated. Robotic process automation (RPA) is already enabling employees to use computer software or a “robot” for certain transactional processing. A reduction in manual processes will inevitably make some jobs redundant: data input clerks for example, will become a thing of the past.

As automation becomes more prevalent across all sectors, people are developing new skills to meet the modern demands of working in the digital age. It also means that employees from all departments are much more involved in business-critical work like expansion and budgetary planning.

Top-level financial executives such as FDs and CFOs will need to add to their existing skillset and develop their knowledge on digital financial solutions. How does data analytics work? What are the business benefits of online accounting? Which product or service offers the most ROI and VOI? They will need to be pro-tech investment but understand which disruptive software best suits their needs and budget.

Compliance is key

PEPPOL will make procurement across the supply chain more efficient and cost effective. The EU and UK government are pushing for implementation as a digital standard will improve invoicing transparency, ensure greater compliance and ultimately lower procurement sourcing costs. For them, e-procurement services improve the accessibility and visibility of financial data – which means that come tax season, the data on hand is far more accurate and readily available with much less reliance on external business reports.

So PEPPOL is on its way, and the sooner organisations update and automate their processes the better. Adapting to any new technologies, systems and processes takes planning and time – but the benefits are well worth the effort. Once all is up and running, public and private sector both will enjoy increased operational efficiency without the administrative headache.

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