Knowledge & skills

Why a PDF is not a structured electronic invoice

In the past, all invoices were paper-based documents, but these days they are becoming more and more digital. This might make you think of PDF files, but such invoices are not the same as Structured Electronic Invoices or SEIs. This blog post discusses the different types of digital invoices and explains the advantages of SEIs for business owners.

Why a PDF is not a structured electronic invoice

What are digital invoices?

In simple terms, digital invoices are invoices that can be sent, viewed and processed digitally (e.g. via a computer, tablet or smartphone).

On the basis of this definition, you might expect invoices in PDF format to be digital invoices. After all, they can be sent as e-mail attachments and stored on a computer or in the cloud. However, we refer to them only as ‘semi-digital invoices’. This is because PDF files fall short in one important respect: the invoice data cannot be automatically transferred and processed in invoicing and accounting software. The details still have to be entered manually, e.g. by copying and pasting. Although digital processing of PDF invoices is possible, it is not as fast and easy as you would like.

Types of digital invoices

There are three types of digital invoices:

·        Scanned paper invoices

·        Semi-digital invoices, for example in PDF or Word format

·        Structured Electronic Invoices (SEI), also called e-invoices

The main difference between these types of digital invoices is in the ease with which they can be processed. In the case of scanned paper invoices, the data has to be retyped manually or Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software has to be used to recognise the data. For semi-digital invoices, you can use recognition software as well as copying and pasting, but you still have to check the data manually, and possibly complete and confirm it. Only SEls can be processed fully automatically.

What are Structured Electronic Invoices?

A Structured Electronic Invoice is a file in XML format, which is short for Extensible Markup Language. Such files are built according to a universal structure, the Universal Business Language or UBL. That structure allows software packages worldwide to read and process electronic invoices fully automatically.

You can simply send Structured Electronic Invoices by e-mail or via the secure Peppol network.

The advantages of Structured Electronic Invoices

Structured Electronic Invoices and the software to manage them, such as Billit, have many advantages for you as a business owner:

·        Time savings: Invoicing takes less time, and no manual steps are required during processing

·        Space savings: Unlike paper invoices, e-invoices do not take up physical space

·        Less chance of human errors: No more manual data entry and transaction processing required

·        Easily searchable: Your invoicing software’s search engine lets you find the right invoice in a jiffy

·        Faster payments: Link invoices to a payment system via a payment button or QR code

·        Automated payments processing: A link to your bank allows immediate recognition of outstanding invoices

·        Insight into your finances: Your invoicing software gives an overview of useful financial data and lets you carry out analyses

·        Smooth communication with your accountant: The link between the invoicing software and accounting software lets your accountant process your invoices smoothly and monitor your figures continuously


Also read: Seven advantages of electronic invoicing


E-invoices: Mandatory in some cases

In many European countries, suppliers of goods or services to public authorities are already required to issue Structured Electronic Invoices. This is the case in the Netherlands and Belgium (both federal and in Flanders), but also in France, Luxembourg and many other European countries. Italy goes a step further: there, Structured Electronic Invoices are actually mandatory for all B2B transactions.

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