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We talk about an integrated economy, but why is paper still so prevalent in business today?

Chancellor Philip Hammond's Autumn Statement signalled significant investment in research, development and innovation. Among his statement pledges, the Chancellor announced the creation of a new ‘national productivity investment fund’ worth £23bn, which will focus on innovation and infrastructure, with investment rising by over £2bn a year by 2020.

The Government’s view is that the UK and its businesses do not invest enough in research, development and innovation. As the pace of technology advances and competition from the rest of the world increases, the Chancellor felt that his Government needed to help British business build on our strengths in science and technical innovation, to ensure the next generation of discoveries are not only made here, but developed and produced in Britain to help drive the post-services economy and productivity. 

Now picture the outdated accounting department of the 90s - stacks of invoices piled on desks, the printer whirring continuously and huge filing cabinets at bursting point.  If we asked the workers in this office what they wanted to change, what would improve the problems within the department, what might they say: “A bigger filing cabinet”, “a more efficient printer/scanner”? I think it’s unlikely that anyone would have had the foresight to suggest sending all invoices electronically and processing without printing or scanning.

It is the question of the digital age - how to do more with less and how to take less time doing it? The accepted way of increasing productivity in any organisation has recently become digital automation, or to put it simply, getting a computer to do it. 

The need for innovative technology

That sounds quite simple, but in many situations, it is often quite tricky. For example, how does a computer interpret human-readable documents? Solving that age-old dilemma would mean we could automate all sorts of document processing systems, saving time, money and paper. 

The need for innovative technology is constant, and while the Chancellor’s investment in innovation and productivity should be applauded, there is no doubt that innovative solutions to age old problems have started to immerge over the last few years. 

Using e-Invoicing to connect businesses to trade electronically is a modern, innovative solution to the paper problem. It’s been estimated that paper consumption per office worker ranges between 10,000 & 20,000 sheets a year, with a higher figure likely for accounting and finance industries. The business and environmental impact of paper invoicing also means its unsustainable and hugely unproductive.

Organisation can save 1-2 per cent of turnover by replacing paper invoices with electronic invoices and optimising their supply chain, so why are so many businesses refusing to innovate to increase productivity and increase their bottom line?  

E-invoicing needs to be as simple as possible for the supplier to use, to ensure high adoption. Historically, this has not been the case and as a result, supplier participation has been impacted. However, more recent technical advances have enabled more and more organisations to connect and trade electronically.

I am talking about an approach that is non-disruptive to the supplier, as it takes advantage of methods and tools which are already ubiquitous and second nature to every organisation - in fact the approach is the second most popular way to invoice today after paper - PDF invoicing.  

Unfortunately, most organisations are not aware of the automation possibilities that present themselves by using the data that lies, literally in front of their eyes (the invoice data is literally carried in the PDF itself – as put there by the application that generated it).

Barriers to adoption

There are many organisations around the world that have realised the benefits of e-invoicing. But it’s clear that high adoption of the suppliers that matter is one of the most important factors to a successful e-invoicing project. 

The more electronic invoices you receive, the less paper remains in the business. The quicker you can get your suppliers on-board, the sooner you will realise the benefits. So why is there often such a low take-up of e-invoicing particularly with small to medium size suppliers? Well, there are two main barriers to adoption, namely the technical change suppliers often must make and the perceived financial cost to the supplier.

For an organisation with experience of working with a traditional e-invoice service provider, the challenge of; “how to remove the barriers to onboarding to maximise supplier adoption”, is likely to be viewed as a complex and difficult one. However, as is often the case with complex problems, taking a simple, fresh approach can result in a simple and easy to use solution.

So, let’s take the Chancellor at his word and adopt innovation to increase productivity. The early adopters have embraced this technology and are moving their businesses forward with the resources they have released.  It’s time for everyone else to follow with confidence.  We are living in the past and we will be left behind if we don’t. 

Richard Manson, Commercial Director, CloudTrade
Image Credit: Jason Truscott / Flickr

Richard Manson
Richard Manson is Commercial Director for CloudTrade. CloudTrade is one of the fastest growing e-invoice and e-document networks, connecting organisations to their partners electronically across sectors and regions across the globe.