The Rise of E-Billing

Internet-savvy customers are comfortable with online bills. “A survey of ours indicated that 58 percent of web users prefer electronic bills over postal ones,” reports Michael Frauen, MD of the software house StreamServe. This is mainly due to the fact that electronic documents are easier to handle than the classical letter format. And companies benefit from a domino effect, since, once the technical prerequisites for e-billing are in place, they soon notice that these can be put to many uses for business communication. This then enables for example shipping documents, sales-related mailings to customers, or payroll data to be prepared digitally and sent online. The same piece of technology can thus be used to cover a broad range of uses to effect efficient business communication.

Cost benefits

Cost factors are a particularly strong argument in favor of online bills. According to analyses by Professor Bernd Skiera, Professor of Electronic Commerce at the University of Frankfurt am Main, a quarter of payment confirmations cost between EUR 10-60, and almost half still cost up to EUR 10. At the same time, the study identified that an electronic invoice costs on average just EUR 2.
Further confirmation of this comes from Wolfgang Joa, product manager in the Business Document Services department at Dynevo GmbH, the media service provider in the Bayer Group: “A traditional format invoice costs us between EUR 2-4. This includes costs for preparing the print data, printing, envelope stuffing, and postage.” Joa, continues: “These setup costs don’t apply to sending documents electronically, so you can save up to 50 percent on each invoice you generate.” He goes on to name a further benefit that has a positive effect on the cashflow: “The fact that the time between sending and receipt is much shorter also means that outstanding amounts are paid more quickly.”
Dynevo is due to send around 130,000 e-billing documents on behalf of its customers in 2005. A solution from software manufacturer Authentidate is used to supply an electronic signature and time stamp in order to comply with legal guidelines. “E-billing is currently concentrated on Europe as no uniform global legal standard has been devised yet,” Joa explains. However, he is confident that these limitations will be removed. “Things will get interesting shortly when China introduces its legal basis for e-billing, for example.”

Generating documents from raw data

A comprehensive business communication strategy that integrates the creation of both electronic invoices and classical hard-copy documents requires a specialist solution that cooperates seamlessly with SAP applications – for example, Business Communication Platform (BCP) from StreamServe. The BCP solution creates documents centrally by merging information and data from the various application systems that handle business processes in the company. It also converts the documents to the necessary print or electronic formats and handles distribution via corresponding channels of communication, such as print center, fax, e-mail, or to mobile terminals. BCP does this by accessing SAP NetWeaver or older SAP-R/3 applications via a range of certified standard interfaces for output data and forms.
All that is needed to generate documents from SAP solutions are unformatted transaction data, known as raw data, from SAP applications which are fed into the Business Communication Platform for further processing and distribution. The fact that the data is analyzed automatically means that standard documents with a sophisticated and uniform layout can be created without manual intervention and output via any communication channel.
The BCP can also produce graphical optimizations of preformatted SAPscript documents, for instance if logos need to be replaced, graphics, barcodes, or text elements inserted, or any other changes made that would be complex to implement in SAPscript. This is made possible by transferring the formatted document to the BCP via the SAPGOF interface. Any necessary changes that need to be made to an already formatted SAP document can then be implemented conveniently.
StreamServe BCP can also exchange data actively with SAP applications, for instance via SAP IDocs, a standard SAP format for the electronic exchange of data, or SAP BAPIs, via which external applications access data in the SAP system. The fact that almost any format can be converted to SAP IDocs, and vice versa, enables communication with non-SAP solutions of customers, suppliers, or business partners who are beyond the reach of internal IT and cannot be easily integrated via EAI solutions. StreamServe BCP also provides the option to receive XML-based messages generated with SAP NetWeaver Exchange Infrastructure (SAP NetWeaver XI) and to convert these into formats for print or PDF documents, for example.

Complementary e-billing

Invoices are usually output from SAP as batch jobs for print processing. Including electronic channels for sending invoices is no mean feat, particularly where large volumes and different customer groups are concerned. This is because only some recipients are able or willing to receive electronic invoices, while others still need to be sent paper invoices. Special solutions are required in order to retain flexibility when generating invoice documents, which are typically produced in large print runs with very tight time restrictions.
StreamServe BCP provides the requisite functionality for implementing an e-billing concept by separating the invoicing process initiated by the SAP application from the actual production of the invoice document in the required target format, be it digital or paper-based. Thus, no changes need to be made within the SAP solution for either invoice run. Instead, the invoices are output in a batch run identical to pure print output, but instead of being sent to a real printer, they are output to the BCP. StreamServe BCP then independently manages the transformation of the raw SAP data into a proper invoice document. Communication profiles enable the target format and the distribution channel for the recipient of each individual invoice to be identified. It is therefore possible to keep track of individual recipients and communicate with them in personalized form both in terms of document content and preferred communication channel, even in the course of a single, large-volume batch run.
The comprehensive monitoring and logging mechanisms of the StreamServe BCP round off the integration of the external communication solution with the SAP applications. These mechanisms ensure that the SAP system contains up-to-date information about the status of output jobs at all times. StreamServe BCP supplies the SAP system with information about failed print jobs, for example, via corresponding certified interfaces. Thus, staff members who have initiated document output are immediately informed about any output problems. This generates a high degree of transparency, increases reliability, and minimizes the risk of failed processes or lost documents. Overall the approach enables e-billing to be implemented without the processes in the SAP solution having to be touched.

Stephan Vanberg
Stephan Vanberg