European Commission Receives Its First Electronic Invoice From Supplier in Feb 2010
On 3 February 2010, for the first time, a private company was able to send an electronic invoice for a product / service supplied to the European Commission. This was made possible thanks to the IT tool 'e-Invoicing' and the 'e-PRIOR eProcurement platform', developed by the Commission's Directorate General for Informatics (DIGIT) in the framework of the eProcurement project that it has been running together with the Directorate General Internal Market and Services (DG MARKT).
As public authorities, the Commission and other EU administrations purchase goods and services. For this, the institutions follow procurement procedures, which lead to the conclusion of public contracts. Public contracts represent a part of the Community's expenditure and cover several areas such as obtaining and fitting out offices for Commission departments, purchasing IT equipment, commissioning consultancy work or technical assistance.
Until now, most of the exchanges between the Commission and its suppliers have been made on paper. Invoices, as a case in point, are all sent by post mail. This is costly for the environment and handling all these documents throughout the procurement cycle takes considerable time, thus generating administrative delays.
DIGIT and DG MARKT joined forces in 2007 and, thanks to a funding of the IDABC Programme (Programme for the Interoperable Delivery of European eGovernment Services to public Administrations, Businesses and Citizens), they started an eProcurement project in collaboration with several Member States and Standardisation Bodies. Thanks to this project, the procurement process will be made electronically, thanks to a secure interface recognised by all parties.
Once a product has been delivered or a service has been provided, the Commission receives an invoice from its supplier. The first electronic invoice has now been sent to the Commission via an integrated interface using web services made accessible to the supplier. This was made possible thanks to the IT tools 'e-Invoicing' and 'e-PRIOR' designed for this purpose: e-Invoicing is one of the modules of the eProcurement suite and has gone live on 1 October 2009, following the approval of the system by the data centre in DIGIT, the product acceptance by the system owner, unit R.2 of DIGIT, and the ex-ante agreement by the Commission's Accounting Officer.
Thanks to this system, the supplier is able to send a secured invoice and other attached documents in XML format via the Internet. The invoice is received by the e-PRIOR platform, which can then deliver the invoice to 'SYSLOG Invoice', the local invoice management system used by DIGIT's Unit R.2. Financial agents are able to see the invoice as any other paper invoice that would have been scanned, and can ensure the payment far more quickly. Exchanging invoices via a web interface saves paper and helps protect the environment. Since it is no longer necessary to scan the invoices and to create the invoice records manually in SYSLOG Invoice, it also lessens the number of human interactions, and therefore reduces payment delays.
In the future, the eProcurement team will organise a roll-out in order first to broaden the production to more suppliers, and then to expand it to further clients within the Commission services. When other units in the Commission will use e-Invoicing, they can either use SYSLOG Invoice as a tool to manage invoices once received, or an interface will be developed between e-Invoicing and their own existing tool. The e-Invoicing module will also be interconnected with the other modules of the e-Procurement suite.
Furthermore, the e-Procurement model will be made available to be used by other administrations, and could also be applied to other areas where there is a need for sharing electronically secured and structured documents with third parties.
Regarding the environmental aspect of the projects, a study has been made by an external company showing that Belgium can save more than 15 000 tons paper and reduce its CO2 emission by 360 000 millions tons by using e-Invoicing instead of printed invoices. This calculation takes as average 900 millions invoices printed by year and a use of 50 % recycled paper.