Peppol and reflections on the future of electronic messaging
PEPPOL, Business Network
This time I’d like to take the opportunity to reflect a little bit on why we as a company chose to become a Peppol service provider and how this journey has been. In other words, I’d like to offer a look behind the scenes of our Peppol journey.
I hope this will provide insights for you on your journey to electronic invoicing and what kind of things to look for in a service provider.
OpusCapita processes hundreds of millions of electronic transactions annually through our Business Network and we support both buyers and sellers in their journey to digitalize global trade. And Peppol has been a cornerstone in our strategy to make this possible.
OpusCapita is a Peppol Service Provider
Peppol service providers connect to the business systems of organisations that send and receive electronic business documents using a 'four-corner' model.
Now how does this look in practice? In the Peppol model, we have in Corner 1, organizations that send electronic business documents via their Peppol Service Provider (Corner 2), who then send the document securely to the Peppol Service Provider (Corner 3) used by the receiving organization (Corner 4). Corner 2 takes the document from the senders’ business systems and Corner 3 places those documents in the receivers’ business system. Sounds rather complex, but it means that there is a secure network in which different providers send and receive electronic messages.
OpusCapita is a certified Peppol Access Point and securely transfers its customers business documents within the network.
Why did OpusCapita set up an Access Point?
It began in 2012 when the Norwegian government made it mandatory to use the Peppol eDelivery network to send invoices to the public sector. OpusCapita had (and still has of course) customers in Norway and we needed to find a way to enable our customers to invoice the public sector. Setting up a Peppol Access Point was the natural solution, although that was easier said than done and in the beginning, the road was quite bumpy.
Every beginning is hard
Or I should probably say, every beginning is challenging because we all know, difficulties are just challenges waiting to be overcome. In 2012, Peppol was new for everybody. Even though Difi (the Norwegian Peppol authority) offered some supporting material and software, there were still many open questions. OpusCapita launched its first version of the Peppol Access Point in May 2012.
Since then OpusCapita has continuously upgraded the service. The OpusCapita access point is using the opensource libraries offered by Difi but there are many components developed on top of that. The Peppol Access Point is integrated with three messaging platforms where OpusCapita runs different conversion, routing and validation services for our customers.
Nowadays there is much more knowledge, experience, and support in the market available and that makes it much easier to set up an Access Point.
More than just e-invoicing
As I mentioned earlier, Peppol allows the transaction of electronic messages between different entities. This is where Peppol has proven helpful for us as we are using the PEPPOL Network to receive and send several different message types on behalf of our customers. Although invoices are the biggest amount of the documents that are exchanged, we also exchange purchase orders, order response messages, and catalogues within the network. There is a plan to implement Invoice Response messages in the near future, providing senders with certainty of receipt.
One Peppol network to rule them all?
The fact that Peppol allows the transaction of any electronic message is a huge success ingredient. And one could ask if Peppol will become the network that will spread across the world.
In March we already covered the topic of Peppol’s possible world takeover on the blog. But I can say, that even though we at OpusCapita originally started to offer Peppol in Norway we are now spreading the network to customers in multiple countries. Today, we have customers in more than 15 countries, such as Sweden, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, and Austria. All these countries are using the Peppol eDelivery network to exchange messages with their business partners. OpusCapita has more than 3,500 customers who are either sending or receiving documents via the Peppol network.
That said, the number of documents exchanged via the PEPPOL network today is still only about 5% of the total number of transactions exchanged within the OpusCapita Business Network and therefore we need to give Peppol the time to grow.
Let’s start by looking at the benefits
There are many benefits, but the most important is that it provides an organically growing ecosystem. It is relatively easy to connect to other and new service providers, given that the key components for interoperability, such as infrastructure, syntax and addressing, are already well standardized in PEPPOL.
The Peppol network gives better reachability for OpusCapita customers and, given that connecting additional service providers is easy and quick, it makes also the onboarding of so called ‘long-tail’ business partners (there is often a high number of small organizations) more affordable for the customer. It is important that electronic business document exchange is accessible to all organizations, no matter how large or small.
Participating in the Peppol network provides OpusCapita with more time and resources to develop value-added services for its customers, rather than reinvent and agree with the partners the detailed specifications already developed by Peppol.
But there are also challenges
One of the challenges is that even though the Peppol network should work seamlessly between countries, there are still different Peppol country authorities that may at times create country-specific rules and requirements. Those requirements require service providers to accommodate different business processes into their systems, which can be cumbersome. However, as time goes by more of the variations are being designed out.
What will the future look like?
We expect that the importance of Peppol in business message exchange will grow remarkably in the coming years. Peppol is already reaching out from Europe and it will go on to serve more and more international markets. As a result, Peppol will also support more international service providers. More countries will become like Norway, where Peppol is by default the nationally accepted infrastructure. However, Peppol will continue to co-exist in parallel for a long time with other existing infrastructures providing similar services. For OpusCapita, Peppol will continue to be one of the key infrastructures supporting document exchange and its importance will grow in the future.
We at OpusCapita offer Order-to-Cash message exchange (including invoice sending) and Purchase-to-Pay message exchange services (including invoicing receiving) and our customers can use Peppol Network for the message exchange with their partners. We of course also offer other options such as EESPA Network, bilateral service provider interoperability network, direct EDI integrations and of course our own Supplier-Buyer Network. And this shows maybe also a bit the challenge.
It would be great if we could serve our customers with a one size fits all solution but we need to be able to accommodate different needs while there are still a wide array of needs on the market. I hope that the market will consolidate itself and the different networks and technologies will create greater interoperability and allow customers to simply dip into the benefits without having to think of different technical needs. Basically, a world where electronic business messages are as easily exchanged as text messages. After all nobody there thinks about the differences between using Whatsapp, Apple Message, or text message etc.
Ahti Allikas has been active in the e-invoicing industry since the year 2000. He currently works as Head of Partners and Networks at OpusCapita, and is responsible for the development of the e-invoicing ecosystem. Ahti is a member of the executive committee of the European E-invoicing Service Providers Association (EESPA), member of management committee of the OpenPeppol Association (PEPPOL) and also member of E-Invoicing expert group in the European Multi-Stakeholder Forum on E-Invoicing (EMSFEI).
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