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Electronic invoicing as a global digitalisation project

Beiersdorf is switching to electronic invoicing on an international scale with the support of Unifiedpost Group. Take a look at which countries had a simple changeover, and which countries proved more challenging.

Beiersdorf in history and numbers

Beiersdorf is known worldwide for brands such as Nivea, Tesa and Eucerin. The German consumer goods group is active in over 100 countries with more than 160 subsidiaries and over 17,000 employees. It goes without saying that such a large company deals with many invoices. In Europe alone, around 700,000 invoicing documents are received each year.

One of Beiersdorf's invoicing challenges is that the receivables enter the company from different countries, in different languages and in different formats. Sometimes they reach Beiersdorf by post, by PDF in emails and via self-billing systems (ERP).

In order to process the mass of documents efficiently, Beiersdorf has decided to introduce electronic invoicing (e-invoicing) worldwide and digitalise its invoicing processes.

Accelerated processes and reduced workload

When a business transitions to electronic invoicing, they no longer need to manually enter or process invoice data. The transition streamlines and accelerates the time it takes to process an invoice.

“As a rule, invoices from our suppliers are usually created electronically, i.e. already digitalised, printed out and sent to us by post. These then have to be digitally recorded again by the accountant for further processing. E-invoicing allows us to avoid this media discontinuity and thus make the process more efficient," explains André Rogel, responsible for Accounts Payable Europe at Beiersdorf Shared Services. "The invoice data can now be checked automatically and digitally, which significantly reduces the workload and error rate and ideally enables automated processing.”

As of 2008, Beiersdorf decided to test the electronic invoice format with some of its suppliers, while Unifiedpost Group supported the technical implementation. Eight years later, the decision was made to launch a global digitalisation project. The aim was to connect the majority of suppliers and to also offer smaller suppliers the opportunity to use e-invoicing.

However, as each invoicing party had its own requirements, Beiersdorf relied on Unifiedpost Group's support:

"We were looking for a provider that offers a broad portfolio, is flexible and also has international expertise. We also didn't want a pure EDI provider. Unifiedpost Group brings all of this to the table and fits our project requirements. We also appreciate the personal contact and the partnership-based cooperation,” says André Rogel.

Conversion to e-invoicing depending on invoice volume and core business

As part of the project, e-invoicing was first introduced into the German team’s processes. Firstly, the 100 largest domestic and international suppliers were connected to Unifiedpost Group’s digital invoicing system.

Secondly, smaller suppliers were included in the changeover process. All further expansion steps beyond Germany were carried out in close consultation across Europe and America.

E-invoicing is particularly worthwhile with high invoice volumes. Beiersdorf therefore identified and contacted the most important suppliers in advance and developed a template for the approach which highlighted the technical requirements for the changeover. Once the supplier had registered and completed an initial test, live operation could begin. So far, over 300 suppliers have been successfully connected.

But it is not only in Germany that the company has high invoice volumes. Many international locations are also part of the core business. Therefore, Beiersdorf also introduced e-invoicing in Poland, Portugal, Spain, the UK, as well as in the USA and Canada.

In Portugal and Spain, the changeover was comparatively simple. Firstly, because the legal requirements in these countries are similar to those in Germany. Secondly, because Beiersdorf received a positive response from the two country’s local suppliers.

Acceptance and willingness to switch not everywhere

The changeover was less straightforward in Poland, the UK, the USA and Canada. Although in these countries (with the exception of Poland) e-invoicing has been an issue for years, there were surprisingly some teething troubles.

In these countries, suppliers are not used to bearing some of the costs. E-invoicing is therefore a cost issue for many suppliers. There is also a lack of technical know-how - especially among smaller suppliers - and the willingness to pay for the connection to a system they are unfamiliar with.

Another hurdle was the language. Some suppliers were initially unwilling to accept German or English as the only language for the invoicing system. Others felt overwhelmed by the speed of the changeover and could not keep up with the digital acceleration.

However, Beiersdorf and Unifiedpost Group succeeded in the majority of cases. Together, the businesses found an individual solution with the suppliers, but ultimately adhered to the standard process.

“There is no one right way to transition to electronic invoicing. Standard rules don't work everywhere. We are therefore able to react flexibly to the needs of our customers - even if that means adapting our system," explains Unifiedpost Group.

From PDF to electronic invoice format

But what exactly happens to the invoices after the transition?

  • The supplier sends their invoice documents, which are initially recorded by Unifiedpost Group.
  • Regardless of the channel, the supplier's country or the invoice format, Unifiedpost Group's system converts the file into an electronic format in accordance with e-invoicing specifications.
  • The system checks the data fields for the relevant information, so that the invoice can then be processed by Beiersdorf's SAP system.
  • The invoice data is sent as a booking record, including the corresponding PDF, to SAP.

This simple process has already led to initial, measurable successes at Beiersdorf.

"Thanks to e-invoicing, we can work more efficiently and quickly. We are able to reduce the proportion of 'blind posted', i.e. invoices posted automatically by the system, to 15% within a year. Which means that employees no longer have to touch these invoices. But there is still a lot more that can be done over time," says André Rogel.

Beiersdorf is therefore planning to connect further countries. The focus is on the countries that have relatively high invoice volumes at their production sites, such as in Latin America and Asia. In the long term, Beiersdorf wants to use e-invoicing globally and further digitalise outgoing invoices.

E-invoicing is becoming mandatory and affects everyone

To manage such a large project, you need the right expertise - and perseverance. André Rogel therefore has a tip for other companies:

"E-invoicing is not a matter of course but requires a high level of commitment. Under no circumstances should companies not be put off by the work. Electronic invoicing processes will come sooner rather than later. Digitalisation will radically increase in speed and the sooner companies get to grips with the topic, the better equipped they will be for the future. A provider can deliver guidance and assistance. E-invoicing will not only be mandatory, but it also leads to greater efficiency and lower processing costs. And that should be an incentive for everyone."

The case study was originally in German, created by crossinx, the former name of Unifiedpost Germany - the German entity of Unifiedpost Group.