Are you considering building an e-invoicing solution in-house? Are you weighing up the requirements vs. the skills and resources you have within the business? If so, great… let me help you avoid some of the pain and costs you will otherwise likely incur.
The business case for e-invoicing is well established*. As a consequence, many businesses have set an agenda for offering their customers e-invoicing/e-billing. Often this requirement falls to the IT team to ‘make it happen’ with a limited budget and no experience of e-invoicing.
As a business leader, or IT leader, you may have every confidence in your IT team tackling the challenge of creating and deploying an e-invoicing solution. This can prove more expensive and time-consuming than expected though. At Netsend, we are approached by companies who have tried to do this, and discovered the level of customisation and variety of standards stretches internal resources to breaking-point. This can prove costly, and detrimental to smooth running of the business.
The first steps in building an e-invoicing solution
As with any project, the first steps are scoping out the requirements. This requires a deep dive into the departments affected by existing invoicing processes, and those who would benefit from changes in process. A detailed set-by-step guide to asking the right questions and building a business case for e-invoicing can be used to ensure nothing is missed. Failure to capture a full set of requirements at this stage will result in costly changes later in the project.
Where building an e-invoicing solution can go wrong
Simply creating PDFs of invoices and attaching to email is often the favourite first-step into e-invoicing. This can often be achieved relatively easily using internal resources. Whilst many successful e-invoicing processes have started off in this way, complexity (and cost) quickly creeps in. The next steps often cause development headaches:
- Different PDF content or formatting for different customers (or groups of customers)
- Ability to determine that an invoice has been received, and read
- Automating fall-back processes – if an email (and attachment) bounces, or isn’t read
- Handling change of contact details, or incorrect details
- Supporting digital certificates (electronic signature equivalents) for VAT compliance (EC Council Directives 2001/115/EC and 2006/112/EC)
- Handling resend and/or reprint requests from customers
- Identifying late-payments and how these can be improved through better invoice delivery
- Archival, analytics and retrieval for performance enhancement and audit requirements
Beyond these simple extensions, businesses soon realise that the lowly PDF-over-email isn’t perfect for every customer. Extensions such as the following create further work for IT and often need ongoing commitments to meet with the development of standards and formatting changes.
- EDI integration
- Integration with e-payment systems and portals
- XML or other data feeds
- Supporting print and post invoices within the existing framework
- Invoicing analytics across multiple different invoice formats/channels
- Customer portal – allowing self-service
- Secure delivery
Who gets building an e-invoicing solution right?
Increasingly businesses turn to expert partners with years of expertise in delivering e-invoicing solutions for business. This saves the need to invest heavily in staffing costs and training to build an e-invoicing solution internally.
Where previously it was acceptable to build and e-invoicing solution that only covered the basics, these days businesses demand more. The biggest threat to business success is, often, wasted time. So it’s rare for a business to risk wasting time when it is faster and more cost-effective to work with external experts to integrate and customise a tried and tested e-invoicing solution for their needs.
Still thinking of building an e-invoicing solution in-house?
Make sure you thoroughly scope out your business needs, planning for future integration requirements and customer invoicing/billing formats. Recruiting e-invoicing experts to deliver the solution can be time-consuming, but will ultimately reduce your exposure to pitfalls and serious omissions. And above all, ensure you have significant IT development and support budget – standards and integration requirements change, so your team will need to evolve the solution over time.
Hopefully these words of wisdom will guide you to investigate the possibility of customising and integrating an established e-invoicing solution trusted by other businesses. E-invoicing is a powerful tool for improving cash flow and creating competitive advantage, but the folly of developing an e-invoicing solution from scratch in-house can prove costly and time-consuming. Choose wisely, and if in doubt look at those in the know, and ask yourself… what do those who know, know?
*Don’t believe me? You should read this.