Invoicing the Future

Fernando Jiménez. Coordinator. E-Business Department. Instituto de Empresa

27 October 2005

Companies, particularly small ones, have been reluctant to introduce new technologies. Now E-billing offers many companies a way to catch the train of the future. But Spain’s top-notch banking system will have to lend a helping hand.

Information technologies have enabled organisations to make notable improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations. Abandoning the 'little wizard' has not been easy. Overcoming resistance to change, fighting obsolete legislation and restructuring departments are just some of the hurdles we have had to surmount in order to do new and better things.

Organisations face a growing challenge posed by the massive use of technology and the need for change and continuous improvement that it implies. However, the siren song of some technologies and the sale of 'magical potion' products in the past have made many companies wary of change, thus hindering the introduction of technological improvements.

Electronic invoicing--or for those who prefer the technical term 'e-billing'—represents a big step forward for companies. Electronic invoicing consists of substituting the paper bill with a digital document validated by a digital signature and recognised by tax authorities. The main benefits include the reduction of costs incurred in the billing process, the freeing-up of storage space, the development of e-commerce and the speeding-up of tax procedures.

From the business point of view, the benefits offered by the implantation of electronic billing are unquestionable. However, there are also disadvantages that have prevented its use from being as widespread as expected.

On the one hand, there are problems caused by current legislation, particularly the guarantees of access for tax inspectors. Other problems arise from the liabilities that companies assume under the contracts they sign for use of the system.

Public infrastructure represents another significant barrier to eliminating paper billing. Unfortunately, instead of providing clarity and inspiring confidence, the choice of certification authority has become a game of Russian roulette in which there seems to be no clear way out.

We also face other problems, such as integrating the e-billing system within our management structures or the organisational and cultural implications of employing electronic billing.

The outlook, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises, is not very promising. At times, these companies have to assume the full cost of the billing system.

If we want to see e-billing develop successfully, the most reasonable option is probably to have intermediate organisations that are easily accessible by companies and which are able to guarantee legal, technological and security levels. However, there are only two institutions able to offer a service of this type: The public administration and banks.

It wouldn't be a bad idea if, for once, and once only, the public administration took the bull by the horns and offered a global service able to add real value, while catapulting us to the fore of EU information technologies. It is true that the administration has made great strides in supporting the introduction of information technologies. But clearly this still isn’t enough.

Our banks continue to stand out from the crowd because of their innovation, efficiency and effectiveness. We probably have one of the best banking systems in the world. Let's hope that our banks don’t pass up this business opportunity and that they continue to be concerned with customer service. Hopefully, this concern is real and doesn’t become a mere corporate slogan.

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