Transitioning to E-Invoicing Easier With Leadership Support

How to successfully drive adoption of e-invoicing across your organization

Research from Tradeshift and sharedserviceslink shows that the most successful finance digital transformation projects are built on a bedrock of support from senior executives. Take a look at our eBook exploring these findings further.

Benedikt, Head of e-invoicing projects for one of the world’s largest transport and logistics companies, explains how he was able to use the support of senior executives to drive understanding and adoption of e-invoicing among an incredibly diverse group of stakeholders. 

Benedikt is a modest guy, and so he’s asked us not to disclose his full identity. Here’s his story. 

Tell us a little more about the journey you have been on with your team

Our organization works with over 100,000 suppliers across the world, and in any given year, we’ll process over 9 million invoices.

Processing each of these invoices manually would be a huge drain on resources and costs. Checking invoices is also one of the most boring things that any human being will ever do. Automating and standardizing this process felt like an obvious area where we could make a change that would have a very positive impact.

Our mission is to ensure that every invoice we receive can be processed entirely digitally, with minimum requirement for human intervention. We started working with Tradeshift in 2011, and I took on internal ownership of the project a little over five years ago. Today we receive approximately 75% of all our global invoices through the Tradeshift platform each month, of which about 44% require no manual intervention.

Picking a technology partner is obviously an important factor in any digital transformation project, but what other factors can make or break a project like yours?

Focus on the cultural change you are trying to drive and get the buy-in from senior management early. The rest will follow.

It’s tempting to frame e-invoicing as an IT project. It’s not. It’s a process change project, and you need process-focused people driving the change. Picking a good technology partner helps shape the way you’re going to roll out a project. Working with Tradeshift has definitely helped. But in all honesty, the technical side of transformation comes a distant second to the human side.

We were very clear from the outset that if we were going to go down this road of receiving documents electronically from our suppliers, we needed to go deep into the company and get the support of a very broad group of stakeholders, starting at the very top of our organization.

As a leader, what’s the most important aspect of your role?

A big part of my job is what I call internal (and external) marketing. We’re convincing a diverse group of people to change something that’s familiar. Doing that successfully means I’m out there constantly communicating, evangelizing, and reinforcing the core message of what we’re trying to achieve and the benefits for everyone involved.

I spend a lot of my time going and speaking to other business units within our organization and explaining what we’re doing. I also attend and speak at summits on the topic of e-invoicing. I’m approaching this from a global perspective, but I’ve also made sure that we have a set of internal ‘champions’ within the business who can help deliver the same message at a local and regional level.

Have there been times when you’ve encountered resistance to change internally?

We’re lucky to have a culture that is very open to change. Getting the backing from senior management at the outset also helped a lot in terms of countering any potential resistance to change we may have otherwise faced internally.

In the beginning, business units would sometimes see the transition to e-invoicing as extra work. But over time, we’ve been able to achieve a broad understanding of what we’re driving for. Being able to show tangible benefits and success metrics has also helped reinforce our message.

We’ve also found that having a strong central team with overall responsibility for the success of the project makes a huge difference.

When we first embarked on this project, we decided to leave it up to the individual countries to manage their own rollout and kept a very small central project team whose main responsibility was internal marketing around the performance of the project.  The results were very mixed. Some countries were very successful, but in other countries, nothing was happening.

One of the first things I did when I arrived was to allocate more resources to the central team and give them more responsibility to train and push local markets, even if that meant taking over the project entirely in certain cases.

What approach have you taken to securing buy-in and adoption from external suppliers?

The vast majority of our suppliers are small businesses. We’re often their largest customer, so when we ask them to make a change, most will listen. Having strong internal alignment upfront helps drive our message home and makes it clear just how seriously we view this project across our entire business.

We started with a fairly dogmatic approach in that we asked suppliers to send e-invoices through Tradeshift, or we would not pay them. But in practice, there are always going to be exceptions where a supplier won’t play ball. In such situations, you have two choices. Either you stand firm, or you look for another way around the problem.

PDF to XML conversion provides a way for us to achieve our objectives without forcing change on the supplier. In fact, they won’t even notice the change since everything happens on our side. It’s not something we would actively promote or encourage, but we also recognize that being flexible can sometimes be the fastest way to get what you want.

For someone thinking about embarking on a similar e-invoicing transformation journey to yours, what advice would you give them?

Get support from higher management upfront. Without this, you cannot come up with a strong message to the people who will ultimately be affected by these changes.

Build a strong center. You can’t outsource accountability and expect results. Transformations need a strong and highly focused central team that has overall responsibility for the success of the project.

Be an active and constant communicator. This is a long-term change management process, so you need to be engaging with teams on a regular basis to reinforce your message. Credibility, clarity, and perseverance are your biggest assets.

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