ZUGFeRD: the new standard for electronic invoices

PDF/A-3 as the preferred ZUGFeRD format

The Central User Guidelines of the Electronic Billing Forum of Germany – best known by its acronym ZUGFeRD, which resembles and is pronounced like the German word for a draft horse – describe a new document and file format for the exchange of electronic invoices. The initiators’ goal is to establish a new standard for billing that will be published as a national norm in Germany and then submitted to the European Committee for Standardization (CEN). PDF is playing a key role in this program, especially since the visual depiction of the billing data is generated using a PDF/A-3 document, with an invoice data file in XML format embedded within it at the same time.

The Electronic Billing Forum of Germany (FeRD), which is made up of various associations, government ministries and corporations promoting electronic billing in Germany, has devised a standardized format for electronic invoicing. The stated goal is to establish one format that can be used for electronic billing purposes between businesses, government agencies and consumers, and which ensures the exchange of structured data between the invoice issuer and the invoice recipient. In addition to the public sector, numerous companies from the automotive, retail, banking and software industries have been working on developing the format.

PDF/A-3 was identified as the favored medium. XML files that meet the requirements of the ZUGFeRD format will be embedded in the PDF/A-3 documents and be readable by both people and software programs. Doing this allows billing data to be sent and received in a structured manner, and provides an uncomplicated way of reading out and processing the information. What makes all this possible is the fact that PDF/A-3 allows the embedding of any file format. Guidelines have been developed that stipulate the criteria the resultant PDF/A-3 document must fulfill in order to conform to the ZUGFeRD standard. First among these is that the source document be PDF/A-3 conform without the embedded data. Second, the XML file (alternative type) must be embedded with respect to the document as a whole. And third, a specific extension schema for identifying the document as a ZUGFeRD-compliant invoice along with the respective metadata must be implemented.

The ZUGFeRD billing format will not only simplify and standardize the way electronic invoices are handled, but also make it possible to reproduce and track key data across all industries and branches of business.