ZUGFeRD – the electronic invoicing standard sweeping across Europe

This might be the first time you’ve heard the word ZUGFeRD, but those working with the European market should take note – it’s set to be adopted across the EU.

ZUGFeRD, standing for the Central User Guide for Electronic Invoicing in Germany, was developed to add long-needed standardization to the e-invoicing format.

Flat PDF invoices (or, heaven forbid, Word Docs) are easy for humans to read, but it’s not an easy task to input the information into ERP, accounting or archiving programs. In contrast, Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) has been used to transmit invoice information between large companies – but the format is incomprehensible to a human reader.

EDI uses structured data to move the invoice information from machine to machine, with little human involvement necessary. However, to implement it requires a bilateral agreement between two companies, agreeing what data is to be shared and how it will be structured. As the data is not for a human reader, software to process the invoice must be developed or purchased.

The ZUGFeRD standard aims to bring the benefits of EDI – lower processing costs, reduced human error, ability to automate processes – within the reach of companies that may only need to process invoices sporadically, or don’t have the resources to implement EDI systems.

It does this by aiming for the best of both worlds. An XML file containing the structured invoice data is embedded within the PDF. The XML data can easily be pulled out by machine, and as it follows a standard format, no bilateral agreement is needed. For the those who want to manually check an invoice, the PDF shows all the information in clear, human-readable form.

Another important benefit is that the the ZUGFeRD standard makes use of and expands on the PDF/A format for long-term digital archiving. PDF/A is already widely used to store digital invoices, however, the format is still not optimal for extracting the invoice data without human intervention. Attaching the XML file means both can be stored together for records. Similarly to the PDF/A format, ZUGFeRD is a non-proprietary standard.

ZUGFeRD’s final version was released in Germany in June 2014, and work is already underway to make it a national standard – but its international ambitions have been clear from the start. ZUGFeRD is based on existing EU and international standards, so get ready to see it adopted at least continent-wide before long.

The German e-invoicing forum has worked hard to ensure that the ZUGFeRD standard will not rely on any third party software. The full specification is freely available from their website.

Here at Debenu, we’re keeping an eye on these developments and adding ZUGFeRD features to our Quick PDF Library. Whether you’re looking to expand your existing apps, or building completely new ones, the next release of Quick PDF Library will include functions to create and read ZUGFeRD invoices.

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