E-invoicing and the case for European platform Interoperability

Published on 18 May 2020

E-invoicing platform interoperability in Europe
Christophe Viry
Viry
Christophe
Head of Strategy & Product
Categories
B2B Collaboration
eInvoicing

In France, all public service vendors have been subject to electronic invoicing since January 1, 2020 and additionally, the French government has decided to extend this obligation to B2B by 2023. To meet these obligations, more than 1,500 operators, half of whom in Europe, have become involved in the field of electronic invoicing. But although parties can theoretically choose their platforms, ordering customers tend to impose that their own solution be used. As a result, vendors must connect to hundreds of platforms in order to meet their needs. This complexity and loss of time could be avoided through interoperability. What standards and actions are in place today to make e-invoicing platforms interoperable? We’ve addressed this question thoroughly at the European level.

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E-invoicing: interoperability standards implemented in Europe 

To encourage interoperability between invoice digitization platforms, a multitude of standards have been implemented, particularly at the European level. These standards define electronic invoice format and their exchange conditions. 

Invoice data format 

In order to be interoperable, e-invoicing platforms must: 

  • use an electronic invoice model that meets the European standard CEN 16931
  • comply with the common syntaxes UN-CEFACT (international standard for information exchanges between public and private sectors) and UBL (XML schema for sales documents).

Electronic invoice exchanges

The interoperability of e-invoicing platforms also requires use of the standard invoice exchange protocol AS4EDI and a connection to networks such as the PEPPOL edelivery Network. This network, which is financed by the European Commission, is accessible through 200 accredited entry points, including Generix Group. Data exchanges between digitization platforms must also be:

  • free of charge: this prevents oligopolies from forming within the market;
  • traceable: issuer and recipient must be able to confirm receipt, distribution, and invoice payment. 

These e-invoicing platform interoperability standards were able to be released when public organizations climbed on board.

On the same topic: [Ebook] Digital Invoicing in Europe: State of the Art
 

Generix Group and European commitment 
 
To build a digitally unified Europe and facilitate the adoption of standards, the European Commission allocated a budget dedicated to financing public and private projects. This program, called Connecting Europe Facility or CEF, is managed by the INEA (Innovation and networks) executive agency.
 
Generix Group is participating in multiple projects that are part of the CEF program, including EURINV, which revokes the CEN 16931 standard, and AS4EDI, which pushes for integration of the EDIINT AS4 eSENS protocol profile.


Public action to encourage interoperability 

Multiple organizations are involved in writing e-invoicing standards and having sector operators implement them. 

GS1 

This is a neutral, non-profit international organization that aims to develop sales collaboration between companies by implementing international standards. GS1 standards aim to improve the efficiency, security, and visibility of supply chains in multiple sectors. GS1 was also the entity that drafted the Charte de l'Interopérabilité, an interoperability charter that reasserts how exchanges must be free of charge when invoices are transiting through two separate operators. Companies that adhere to GS1 by signing the charter are committing to a controlled deployment of electronic invoicing in as little time as possible.

Forum National de la Facture Électronique (FNFE) 

The FNFE (National Forum of the Electronic Invoice) gathers all public and private French entities involved in developing electronic invoicing. The organization represents France to European institutions. On November 8, 2019, it published the first list of electronic invoicing operators to adhere to the interoperability charter’s rules.The document has multiple goals:

  • Remind signatories of the fundamentals of electronic invoicing and system interoperability conditions: recommended data standards, invoice receipt confirmation methods, etc. 
  • Specify and emphasize best practices related to invoice transmission via service providers
  • Provide issuers and receivers with useful items for selecting a service provider open to the market who respects current regulation  
     
Interoperability in writing

After signing the GS1 charter in 2013, Generix Group once again reaffirmed its commitment to a single e-invoicing market in Europe when it became one of the first signatories of the interoperability charter created by the FNFE in 2019. 


European E-invoicing Service Providers Association (EESPA)

This European association groups together operators who provide electronic invoicing solutions. It gathered a workgroup tasked with devising an interoperability model integrating standards and a contract model that could be used by multiple operators. 

European Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Electronic Invoicing (EMSFEI) 

This multiparty European forum addresses a variety of subjects involved in developing electronic invoicing. Sub-group no. 4 is presided by France and deals with interoperability. To do so, it organizes and regulates interoperability between systems and encourages players to interconnect their solutions to prevent dispersion, the end goal being to successfully increase competition between the companies involved. 

European public entities wish to democratize electronic invoicing as quickly as possible. By implementing standards and best practices, they hope to ensure coordination between multiple players in order to facilitate this transition and ensure small and medium-sized company productivity.