“For the past years I have had the pleasure of listening to responsibles within the Swedish public sector, learning more about what the government has planned for the administration and governance of state funds and organisation. Just like other countries, Sweden set out to push electronic invoices to the public sector in 2008. Now there is a procurement process regarding e-orders, and e-procurement that will follow. Peter Norén has long experience from The Swedish National Financial Management Authority and working with e-business processes within the public sector. Following the interest in the Nordic development – here are some Q&As from Peter.” Anna Bjärkerud
What do you think of the e-business (e-invoicing, e-procurement, P2P, e-payments and so on) market in Sweden ? What is the current status?
E-business is a mature market in Sweden, in particular when you look at the post-award processes, such as e-ordering and e-invoicing. Both private businesses and public sector entities have been using e-business in large scale during several years. There are also solutions available for small and medium sized enterprises.
E-tendering is also used in Sweden, but not as much as for the post-award processes.
Sweden began legislating electronic invoices for central government agencies, then e-orders and soon to come e-tendering - why begin at the end of a financial supply process?
The public sector in Sweden started implementing e-business (e-ordering and e-invoicing) in the 1990’s. At that time the existing solutions corresponded better with the buying patterns of the local authorities and regions and the central government agencies lagged behind in implementation in this first phase.
Since 2006 the Swedish government in office has prescribed a stepwise approach for implementing e-business in the central government sector. This was based on a feasibility study conducted by Ekonomistyrningsverket (The Swedish National Financial Management Authority). The pre-study suggested that the further development efforts should start with the coordinated implementation of e-invoicing for all government agencies.
The first step was to make it mandatory for the government agencies to handle invoices electronically. No pressure was put on the suppliers of goods and services to the government agencies. The strategy has been to use incentives rather than legal requirements toward these companies.
The reason for starting with the invoicing processes was that a large number of government agencies had already started with efforts in this area, i e scanning paper invoices. E-invoices were therefore a natural next step. E-invoicing was also regarded as an initiative that could be applied to all central government agencies.
What do you believe will happen next in the private sector within this area?
We expect that the current initiative in the Swedish central government sector implementing e-ordering tools and processes will increase focus on e-ordering for private sector as well. On-going Pan-European initiatives such as PEPPOL (www.peppol.eu) and CENBII (www.cenbii.eu) will make cross border use of e-procurement more common both for post- and pre-award processes.
What do you think will happen in the public sector in Sweden?
The Swedish government has decided that the central government agencies have to able to handle orders electronically by the end of 2013. This will therefore be of great focus during the coming years.
What inhibitors can you see in the Sweden market for further development?
The largest general inhibitor is lack of knowledge and hesitation to start projects concerning e-business.
Why these inhibitors?
When there are doubts about the business case and decision makers are uncertain whether they have enough resources to allocate to the necessary projects, this does not enhance the further e-business development.
What needs to happen in order for this/these inhibitors to be concurred?
We believe that the strategy chosen for Swedish government agencies is very wise. It is a coordinated initiative that is mandatory for the central government agencies to undertake. This is backed up with a lot of support for the change processes that are needed as well as the provision of a common infrastructure. The most important thing is to facilitate the work in the agencies, to get the wheels spinning.
Sometimes pressure is needed to make things happen. For the future we might evaluate further steps to put pressure on the Swedish suppliers and companies to send e-invoices in a way similar to what Denmark did in 2005 and what Norway is undertaking at the moment. It is important not to add administrative burden on companies, however e-invoicing is easy to use and ready off the shelf even for SME’s today.
How should this happen?
We have started working with support for the government agencies. Once the government agencies have started their preparations it is also important to focus on the suppliers to government. We need to provide information about what is going on and also start putting commercial pressure in the call for tenders when procuring framework agreements for goods and services.
What is your advice to public and private sector organisations wanting to utilise the opportunities in e-business such as lowered administration costs and greater financial control?
E-business is an important measure to achieve cost savings, more efficient processes and increased quality and service. To make this real the individual government agencies must implement changes in their organisations, processes, management & control systems as well as in their IT-applications.
What is your organisation doing to make this happen?
ESV has been commissioned by the Swedish government to lead and coordinate the work in the central government agencies that is needed to be able to handle orders electronically. An important part in our work is to give support to government agencies, facilitate knowledge transfer and disseminate best practice.
Where can public and private organisations (and those wanting to comply with current regulations) find more information about Swedish regulations?
Information regarding the use of e-business in Swedish public sector as a whole is found at the web page of Single Face To Industry (SFTI): www.sfti.se. SFTI is a joint initative by ESV, Swedish Local Authorities and Regions and The Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency.
Information for suppliers regarding e-invoicing has been made available by ESV at www.e-fakturera.nu. During 2011 information regarding e-ordering will also be available. Information directed towards central government agencies as well as relevant material such as feasibility studies, status reports etc. can be found at www.esv.se/e-handel.