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EESPA – A closer look at one of the oldest e-invoicing communities

Ahti Allikas

We are getting closer to global interoperability and in today’s situation, the topic of e-invoicing is more real than ever. The confidence of getting paid, the efficiency of the process, and the speed of understanding your business partner’s situation – all that is more crucial in difficult economic situations compared to good times and e-Invoicing helps to tackle all that.

Going through the old blogs I noticed that I have focused a lot on PEPPOL (latest its initiative in Nordics) and BPC (Business Payment Coalition – US Initiative for E-Invoice standardization) and even on GIF (Global Interoperability Framework). It’s important to know that those are not the only e-invoicing initiatives that are driving developments forward. Somehow unfairly I have left the EESPA (European E-Invoicing Service Provider Association) out of scope.

I would like to take a closer look at EESPA this month. As a sitting member of EESPA’s Executive Committee, I feel my responsibility to cover the activities also of that organization the more that it has influenced the activities of E-Invoicing in Europe for 8 years and according to some calculations the members of EESPA carry in their systems up to 25% of all the European E-Invoices. Considering that number EESPA is more than 10 times bigger than PEPPOL but of course, that is not the only thing to concentrate on as a member wise OpenPeppol Association running a PEPPOL Network has more than 5 times more members compared to EESPA (400+ vs 70+) and I would assume that at least 50 of them are members in both of the Association.

Many wonder what the difference between EESPA and PEPPOL is and why there are two organizations. I think the difference is in the design and angle both organizations use. I would describe PEPPOL as a more technical approach, that focuses on creating common standards for interoperability. PEPPOL is inherently open but comes with demands to those who join the network. On the other hand, EESPA is a trade association that primarily focuses on the business of its members. EESPA can be joined without any technical preconditions.

Objectives of EESPA

EESPA’s main objective is to engage in public policy debate, recommend best practices, and represent the industry within European Forums. They do promote interoperability and the creation of an interoperable ecosystem for e-invoicing and advocate the support of wide adoption of e-invoicing. And they bring their members together through joint services and networking.

EESPA’s main goal is to help to develop the business for its members as one trade association should. Since 2020 EESPA has actively expanded its activities and managed the largest effort through EESPA working groups throughout its history.

  1. Interoperability Working Group delivers interoperability infrastructure through the piloting of CEF eDelivery, creating a new exchange format and response messages for the MIFA (Multilateral Interoperability Framework Agreement). As activity wise, this working group is the closest to the activities of PEPPOL and therefore EESPA also looks at how to cooperate with PEPPOL as much as possible for example by developing joint invoice response messages or by keeping the same line within its recommendations to its members on to-be-used artifacts in interoperability (like CEF eDelivery what also PEPPOL is using).
  2. The Public Policy and Compliance Working Group pursues its focus on compliance and the emerging trend toward Continuous Transaction Controls in VAT systems at the Member State level.
  3. The Invoice Finance Working Group develops an analysis of the invoice/receivables finance marketplace and opportunities for the EESPA community.
  4. e-Procurement task force takes a hard look at the procurement space adjacent to our core market and how closer integration could be achieved.

It’s important to emphasize that all this work is based on the voluntary contributions of all EESPA members and also the deliveries of the groups bring benefits to all of its members.

Interoperability, as one of the key themes for the future

I am convinced that EESPA and PEPPOL will cooperate around E-Invoicing interoperability topics more in the future. EESPA doesn’t have ambitions to develop any new standards and it always recommends its members use existing ones. As said already above, technical standards managed in EESPA’s interoperability group are very much the same as PEPPOL is using. EESPA delivers new interoperability infrastructure through the piloting of the CEF e-Delivery and uses UBL as a base format for message exchange. Interoperability is a key theme, and no e-invoicing initiative is an island. EESPA is also participating in the Global Interoperability Framework (GIF) initiative in conjunction with ConnectOnce, OpenPeppol, and BPC. We can expect the first document of that initiative to be published soon.

Where will the future lead – EESPA or PEPPOL?

The biggest speculation topic in E-Invoicing is who will be there in the future – EESPA or OpenPeppol. My answer to that question is we need them both and initially there is no real conflict between them.

I also often get asked why we need two organizations? There is a big business reason behind it. If PEPPOL is targeted towards common lean interoperability around eCommerce with the main target of creating an effective infrastructure for society. Even this infrastructure is mainly run by the service providers while EESPA as a trade association keeps in mind the business interests of the service providers and looks for the possibilities of how the service providers can create more value for society.

PEPPOL at the moment has been able to explode because different public sectors have mandated the usage of PEPPOL. At the same time, it hasn’t exploded in countries where it is not mandated though at the same time e-invoicing is still there within EESPA. PEPPOL hasn’t found its native growth without the support of the public sector which EESPA has done though at the same time if PEPPOL has started to grow due to mandate then initially it has been really successful in that country.

I also often get asked, if PEPPOL and EESPA shouldn’t just merge and that is not an easy question to answer. I personally wouldn’t dare to speculate on that. Both organizations are aiming for similar outcomes but partially through different means. The world is not black or white, for a flourishing e-invoicing community, we will need different organizations that push the topics from different angles forward. We will need PEPPOL, to focus on creating unified standards and we will need EESPA, keeping the business aspect in mind.

Maybe in the far future, where e-invoicing is as mainstream as a phone call or SMS today, then we could think of PEPPOL as just one network of many. But considering that there are always other aspects influencing E-Invoicing like invoice financing, compliance, national clearance models, and country-specific implementations, then there are always other business services service providers want to build and provide.

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).