Basware: Over half of global businesses still constrained by paper-based invoice processes

Espoo, Finland - 18 October 2012

Continued reliance on self-scanning and manual processes is holding businesses back from improved cash flow visibility but mass adoption of e-invoicing is accelerating globally

53% of businesses still scan and capture physical invoices in-house, with a quarter not scanning invoices at all, and PDFs continue to be relied upon to send and receive invoices, according to the results of the annual Global E-Invoicing Study from Basware, the leading provider of e-invoicing and purchase-to-pay solutions.

The second annual global study, which surveyed 908 finance professionals from the US, UK, Sweden, Norway, Germany and Finland, was conducted by Basware and the Institute of Financial Operations (IFO). The 2012 Global E-Invoicing Study is a benchmarking study of the e-invoicing practices by businesses of all sizes in key markets, the rates of adoption and the degree to which electronic invoicing is being used by organizations.

The study found that 81% of invoices are scanned for invoice processing, yet only 26% of enterprises outsource the scanning of purchase invoices into electronic format, with the number as low as 11% among SMEs. This presents a large burden on any size business to complete the scan and capture of physical invoices as it requires internal resource to manually scan the information and input the data or files into the system; this delays the invoice process and hinders cash flow visibility. The volume of paper printing is also relatively high – 69% of businesses print invoices in-house. Those using more sophisticated systems (sending XML e-invoices, using point-to-point connections, third party web service or portal) are more likely to outsource printing services (30%); only 8% do not print invoices.

PDFs continue to be the most common format for ‘electronic’ invoices (58%) and whilst this is a progression from paper invoices, it shows a large percentage of companies are still a long way from full automation. Unsurprisingly, heavy senders of PDF invoices are heavy receivers. 79% of companies that send out invoices as PDFs receive email invoices in this format, compared to 50% of companies that use state billing and automation systems. Yet, businesses with sophisticated systems experienced a number of benefits beyond companies that rely on PDF-based paperless processes: 56% of businesses with sophisticated systems experienced a reduction in the cost of invoice processing compared to their counterparts that use PDF; 38% saw a reduction in invoice errors compared to 28% using PDF-based processes.

Despite the continued reliance on rudimentary electronic documents and manual processes, the survey found that there has been a reduction in the perceived barriers that prevent the adoption of e-invoicing automation compared to 2011. Supplier resistance to e-invoicing adoption has significantly decreased from 46% in 2011 to 26% in 2012 as suppliers realize the benefits; 28% of businesses that use sophisticated invoicing systems found it had a positive impact on the relationships with suppliers and customers. There has also been a steady increase in those businesses that use electronic invoicing to some degree in 2012 – 73% compared to 59% in 2011.

Businesses have an increasingly higher degree of awareness of the benefits of e-invoicing. The perception of the impact e-invoicing has on speeding up invoicing cycles has increased to 75% from 72% in 2011. The reduction in invoice costs is seen as the second main benefit for 64% (a slight reduction from 71% in 2011).

The comparison between smaller sized businesses and larger enterprises presented some interesting findings. The rate of adoption for e-invoicing is consistent across businesses of any size. Small businesses (less than 100 employees), however, are more likely to see customer demand as a driver for the transition to e-invoicing – 61% compared to only 34% of businesses with 1000+ employees. However, despite this recognition of customer demand, a large number of SMEs currently do not have the ability to process e-invoices; only 42% of SMEs compared to 70% of larger enterprises.

The study found that e-invoicing adoption is being driven by an ecosystem effect as more businesses encounter partner, supplier and customer organizations benefitting from e-invoice use, including a reduction in invoice errors and processing costs. The network effect is also contributing to this whereby e-invoicing take-up is passed down the value chain from a large customer to a large supplier and consequently the suppliers that work with that business. These factors alongside legislative changes and e-invoicing mandates by governments, improvements in connectivity solutions and market awareness combine to not only increase the number of organizations adopting e-invoicing but also the volume of invoices processed. The tipping point of the e-invoicing ecosystem is expected to be 2014/15 when the majority of companies will have moved to sophisticated e-invoicing.

Esa Tihilä, CEO, Basware comments: “E-invoicing adoption is on the rise but as this survey shows, many companies are still relying on manual processes. The good news is that we are starting to see the results of an ecosystem effect, whereby businesses are adopting e-invoicing as a result of interactions with other partners and suppliers, improvement in connectivity solutions and the network effect, where large customers use of e-invoicing is passed down the value chain. The vast majority of finance professionals surveyed recognize the business benefits e-invoicing can offer to its organization, from very small businesses to large enterprises. We expect to see a continuation of e-invoicing adoption until we reach the tipping point in 2014/15, where sophisticated fully automated systems will be largely commonplace.”

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