Basware has been supplying purchasing and invoicing software for over twenty years. In the last few years, the Finnish company made a switch to the cloud. It also enriched its software with artificial intelligence and machine learning. ‘As a result, we can offer customers more data-driven insight into their purchase and source-to-pay processes,’ says Basware consultant Kris Vanhoutte. ‘There is still so much to gain in terms of invoice automation.’
In 2017, Basware made the switch to software-as-a-service (saas). That cloud transition has been bearing fruit ever since. Apart from a dip at the start of the pandemic, the company has grown. ‘The corona crisis and working remotely made organizations invest more in online solutions, including us,’ says Kris Vanhoutte, presales consultant at Basware.
Not that there are no longer customers who run the software on-premises, but according to Vanhoutte, most are convinced of the advantages of the cloud: no local software installation required, no more full updates, always the most recent version, easy to install. and scale down and pay-as-you-go instead of licenses. ‘Such a Saas environment gives customers peace of mind.’ About eighty percent of Basware’s turnover is now cloud-related: in the past third quarter this was 29.7 million (a growth of just under ten percent) on a total turnover of 37.1 million euros, a growth of one percent. .
Basware does a large part of its software implementations itself, but also works with partners worldwide. One of the most important is ICreative from Ede, which has been acting as an integration party in the Benelux for over twenty years.
Basware’s software allows customers to complete their purchase-to-pay (also known as procure-to-pay) process electronically. That process encompasses the entire process from order to payment, which includes the activities of requesting, purchasing, receiving, paying and administering goods and services. Basware also has a worldwide e-commerce network for handling ordering and payment processes between customers and suppliers. Orders and invoices are converted into data files in a format (such as pdf, xml/ubl and edi) as desired by the receiving party.
But, Vanhoutte emphasizes, ‘our activities encompass more than electronic invoice processing. We offer a solution developed for source-to-pay: the process from supplier selection and contract management to purchasing, invoicing and end-user experience. Together with customers, we map out such a process and determine which functionality is needed to efficiently support all workflows, remove barriers and provide insight into what a company spends money on.’
Jumping through hoops
Because keeping an administration is no mean feat. Vanhoutte: ‘A company is not an island; suppliers are important links. Every organization works in its own way and internally there is often little standardization around purchasing and e-invoicing. This has been arranged in our Saas environment, also with prescribed standards for suppliers, and we avoid having to jump through 27 hoops before an order confirmation or invoice can ultimately be sent.’
In the source-to-pay piece, he notices that the purchasing and finance departments are getting closer to each other. ‘Ultimately, invoicing is a form of data processing. If you have properly set up your source-to-pay, you will gain a better view of purchasing and payment flows, of direct and indirect costs. Vanhoutte, for example, points to the hiring force that is often seen as an indirect cost item, but is often of strategic importance to keep things going. Or the well-known ad hoc publications of ‘around the corner’.
“We have boarded up all the gates in it”
Since invoices contain business-sensitive information, is it a good idea to have processing in the cloud? Or, one step further, by having a third party like Basware do this? Is the hacking risk not too great for customers who do not have their IT security in order? And does the company guarantee that an employee will never run off with customers’ company data and sell it to the competition?
Vanhoutte does not believe in these kinds of doomsday scenarios. ‘We have boarded up all the doors in the IT field. At the user level, we do everything we can to avoid human errors. Our approval processes are designed in such a way that at least two employees have to give their approval each time an invoice is processed. And of course every action that a user takes is logged and every user can also consult that data. Remember, we process 130 million electronic invoices per year. We cannot run any risk in doing so.’
Electronic invoicing, which originated in the slipstream of e-mail, has been around for a while, but has been on the rise in recent years, says the Basware consultant. Driven in particular by governments that make electronic invoicing mandatory. He expects a lot from artificial intelligence (ai: artificial intelligence) and machine learning in the coming years. The company has been enriching its software with this for a few years now and according to Basware it offers many advantages in the entire procure-to-pay cycle.
In the short term, Vanhoutte foresees, among other things, a further automation of actions that currently take place manually, the elimination of errors and a faster processing time. ‘With AI, for example, purchase orders that deviate from the standard can be automatically marked for further inspection. This is much faster than an employee having to check this. Or, one step further, with the help of machine learning, the software knows whether a submitted invoice can be automatically approved and processed.’
Recipe for Oracle ERP
Basware recently announced that it has developed a “recipe” that allows Oracle Fusion Cloud ERP users to connect to Basware’s e-Invoicing receiving solution. It is a standard out-of-the-box interface that allows those users to receive their invoices electronically, regardless of the e-invoice format in which the sender submits the invoice. This Basware e-Invoice receiving Recipe is available on the Oracle Cloud Marketplace.
“Edi has been pronounced dead a few times”
Despite the enrichment of the software, Basware does not have the ambition to broaden its functionality towards the (European) electronic consignment note or the enterprise resource planning (erp) angle. Vanhoutte: ‘There is still so much to gain in terms of invoice automation.’ Figures from the German research agency Billentis show that around five hundred billion paper bills are sent annually worldwide, compared to 65 billion e-invoices (87/13 percent). In the Benelux, this electronic number is around nine hundred million.
Invoices are still sent by fax (‘I can see that disappearing within the next few years’) and edi – electronic data interchange – is also always in vogue. Vanhoutte: ‘That was actually the first way to send business data via a network. Edi has been pronounced dead several times. I sometimes jokingly call it the ’80s zombie billing system’. But Basware still supports this protocol. It also indicates that there is still plenty of room for innovation in the market.’
Kris Vanhoutte, presales consultant Basware.
Innovation that doesn’t just happen at Basware, by the way. There is Peppol, which stands for Pan-European Public Procurement On-Line. It is a secure network over which files, such as an e-invoice in UBL format, must be sent according to a specific protocol for electronic data exchange. Peppol originated within the European Commission and aims to simplify the purchase-to-pay process between public authorities and suppliers. More and more countries, even outside Europe, are mandating the use of the Peppol network for sending e-invoices.
When asked whether Peppol is a threat to Basware, Vanhoutte responds in the negative. In his view, Basware has a role to play as a ‘service provider with a Peppol connection’. This connection is necessary to link Peppol to the customer’s ERP or accounting system. He sees a similar role for his company in the emerging e-marketplaces that offer SMEs access to e-commerce and handle the administration. ‘There too there are still many paper invoices circulating. You need good invoice solutions to be able to process them and we have been offering that service for a long time.’