The ZUGFeRD standard: E-invoicing gaining ground

The “paperless office” – perhaps not just wishful thinking for long. Now that smartphones have become commonplace, people are using less and less paper (calendars, planners, journals and so forth) in managing their personal affairs. Although most businesses still work with paper documents, they are gradually making the digital transformation. Because of various security considerations, especially when it comes to billing, it has long been standard practice to rely on paper as the medium for delivering and archiving invoice-related data.

Today a whole new generation is emerging that not only does its shopping and banking online, but doesn’t even own such things as analog calendars. Businesses are quick to realize the benefits of the paperless office and are increasingly turning to electronic means for delivering and archiving invoices. After all, sending, saving, and archiving all your documents electronically is easily done nowadays. Much progress has been made in recent years particularly in those areas where legally compliant digital signatures have replaced traditional ones. Along with that, more and more old paper documents are being scanned so that they can be archived electronically.

Until recently, there were a number of prerequisites that had to be met which slowed down the transition to the exclusive use of digital signatures and electronic invoices. These included having to purchase new equipment and software as well as providing users the appropriate training and skills. Fortunately, these problems are now pretty much a thing of the past.

ZUGFeRD gaining acceptance as the standard format

Those wishing to enjoy the benefits of using digital processes (including no more bothersome printing, added savings in terms of space and money, and global availability) for such tasks as delivering invoices electronically can now turn to what in Germany is called ZUGFeRD, which is a uniform data format for invoices that was specially developed for electronic invoice presentment. ZUGFeRD is the original acronym for “Central User Guidelines of the Electronic Billing Forum of Germany.” The development of this standard format will, among other things, improve the everyday workflow of tax preparers and consultants.

As a format for electronic invoices, ZUGFeRD is a combination of a PDF document (PDF/A-3 format) with an invoice file in XML format. This combination not only enables the standardized read-out of information, such as the invoice number and amount, but simplifies all the other required processes. PDF/A is the ISO-certified standard for long-term archiving because it ensures that invoices cannot be changed and that they maintain their proper visual appearance over time. What’s more, billing recipients can choose to use a PDF file or an XML dataset to further process and manage the invoices.

E-invoicing is the model for the future

Electronic invoicing is gaining in popularity and being used more and more often. According to a survey conducted by ibi research of the Regensburg University, nearly 40% of the respondents said they were pleased with the ability they have today of taking care of invoicing procedures digitally. Besides supporting this trend, the ZUGFeRD data model also enables companies, government agencies and consumers to easily and securely exchange invoices electronically.

Digitizing paper invoices

Existing invoices can also be digitized. Here the first step involves scanning whatever paper invoices you have on file. The information these files contain can then be automatically processed using an OCR system. An invoice available in digital form can be easily converted to PDF/A-3 using ZUGFeRD XML. Once these steps are completed all the invoices can be further processed using ZUGFeRD regardless of their source formats. A centralized interface allows, for example, the XML files to be transferred to the SAP system for posting, accounting and subsequent archiving.

ZUGFeRD and webPDF – the ultimate in convenience

webPDF from SoftVision is the remarkable end-to-end solution with an OCR feature that lets you convert scanned paper invoices of any format to PDF. You can now generate electronic invoices utilizing the additional PDF/A converter and ability to integrate ZUGFeRD XML data during the PDF/A conversion process. These documents are then available for ZUGFeRD-compatible further processing.