Enterprises, in today’s digital economy, are surprisingly digitally backward when it comes to procurement and invoicing.

Electronic transactions between consumers and businesses have become the norm for today’s digital economy. Digital solutions are streamlining and automating procurement processes in public and private sectors. Surprisingly, however, payment processes continue to require enterprises to labor against millions of paper invoices or PDF attachments, all of which must be managed by hand.

Singapore has taken a leap towards helping organizations break through this paper jam by announcing that government agencies can now accept e-invoices within the country or across borders via Singapore’s new nationwide e-invoicing network. The network leverages the Pan-European Public Procurement On-line (PEPPOL) framework.

In May 2018, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) became the first National Authority outside of Europe to join OpenPEPPOL as a PEPPOL Authority. Since 2019, the PEPPOL Business Interoperability Specifications (BIS) for e-invoicing and the PEPPOL eDelivery Network have been live.

OpenText Business Network, already the world’s largest network to enable organizations to exchange business documents and automate business processes, has become one of the first certified Access Point (AP) providers to help businesses connect with government agencies in Singapore through the PEPPOL framework.

Janet Chong, Customer Manager, OpenText explains to DigiconAsia why Singapore is taking the lead in Asia to implement PEPPOL standards and why businesses should prioritize joining the Singapore PEPPOL network.

How do economies like Singapore benefit by leading the way with PEPPOL?

Chong: Singapore became the first country outside of Europe to launch the PEPPOL framework, embracing it to facilitate both domestic and cross-border e-invoicing, first in the private sector. Other Asia-Pacific countries including Australia and New Zealand have since followed Singapore’s lead in implementing PEPPOL standards.

By adopting the PEPPOL framework and establishing its e-invoicing network, Singapore will experience increased interoperability and efficiency among global trading partners. Countries leveraging PEPPOL standards will also enhance their ability to do business in general. And easier, more seamless connectivity across borders can be a catalyst to further international trade.

Enterprises connecting to the Singapore network can exchange e-invoices automatically and without manual intervention. They can expect many business benefits from getting onboard, including:

  • enhanced cashflow management with faster invoice processing, validation and payment times
  • reduced cost of doing business include costs for storing and retrieving paper invoices
  • improved efficiency through streamlined processes
  • better use of human resources versus labor-intensive manual invoicing

Participating businesses will also experience fewer data entry errors and more accurate, near-real time visibility of payment cycles, which will help in optimizing invoicing processes. They will also strengthen environmental sustainability profiles by reducing the paper jam.

Taking part in the Singapore e-invoicing network can open up new supply chain financing options and help businesses that want to expand in other markets. Since the network is an extension of the international PEPPOL E-Delivery network, participants can easily transact internationally with other linked companies.

How does PEPPOL help overcome e-invoicing barriers?

Chong: Adoption of e-invoicing remains lower on organizational to-do lists because it can be difficult. A top barrier for global enterprises that the PEPPOL framework and eDelivery Network help to streamline is ensuring e-invoicing practices comply with diverse regulations, customer payment preferences and technical requirements in multiple markets.

Disparate national digital procurement and payment frameworks implemented by individual countries limit interoperability, making it more complex for businesses to electronically connect and communicate among countries and between global trading partners. Many enterprises adopt solutions for each individual country they operate in, which could result in 10 or more different systems to integrate and maintain. The operational considerations are daunting.

The European Commission and PEPPOL Consortium members recognized this challenge in Europe and launched the PEPPOL project to simplify electronic procurement and payment, especially across borders, by developing technology standards which can be implemented across all governments. PEPPOL enables businesses to communicate electronically with any government institutions in the procure-to-pay process, with a single protocol to exchange key business documents.

By fostering agreement on technical specifications for cross-border procurement, the PEPPOL project has helped Europe develop a pan-European, standards-based IT infrastructure, which other countries such as Singapore are now embracing. PEPPOL standards will make it easier for businesses to implement e-invoicing practices that work in multiple countries.

How does PEPPOL ease achievement of interoperability for e-invoicing?

Chong: Through the PEPPOL framework, Singapore will be providing businesses with access to several key components to facilitate greater interoperability and to streamline adoption of e-invoicing:

  • eDelivery Network securely connects different eProcurement systems including e-invoicing according to PEPPOL’s common business processes and technical standards.
  • Service Metadata Locator allows all participating businesses on the integrated eDelivery Network to locate each other, identify capabilities and connect.
  • Business Interoperability Specifications (BIS) provide common eProcurement processes including e-invoicing. These processes standardise all electronic documents exchanged and validated through an open and secure network between Access Points for public sector buyers and their suppliers across countries. BIS offers rules for how to structure information in e-documents, similar to a template.

How does PEPPOL simplify connection to the eDelivery Network?

Chong: Enterprises wanting to deliver invoices electronically in Singapore will benefit from a simplified on-boarding process. They connect to the Singapore e-invoicing network through a certified PEPPOL Access Point (AP).

These are experienced integration providers appointed by Singapore’s PEPPOL authority to assist businesses with making AP connections. A company simply selects an approved AP provider to enable document transmission without the need for the company to change its internal systems. All AP service providers must meet strict qualifications and use the same electronic messaging protocol and formats and apply digital signatures.

Are there other challenges to e-invoice adoption?

Chong: While e-Invoicing is less challenging to implement especially with PEPPOL standards, enterprises with large volumes of invoice transactions are often concerned with changes to complex internal processes and exceptions that e-invoicing can bring.

Smaller companies with low transaction volume can more easily adopt and adjust, but larger enterprises should consider provisioning for stages of adoption. This will enable them to adjust people, systems and processes in tandem.

Singapore is making it easier for those they do business with to break through the invoice paper jam. The country encourages all trading partners working with its government agencies to prioritize adoption of the PEPPOL framework and connect with the country’s new e-invoicing network.