Imagine you have sent an important invoice which, through a series of unfortunate events, does not reach the sender. While you wait endlessly for the invoice to be paid, the customer is still waiting to receive the invoice. Failure to communicate here can have unpleasant consequences. The e-procurement network Peppol solves this problem through status tracking. In this article, we will look at how status tracking works with Peppol Message Level Response and learn about other status messages that are possible with Peppol.
As described above, the question of whether a sent file has actually reached the recipient is often a source of uncertainty. This is a particularly important issue when processing invoices as you can only initiate further steps if you’re sure that the recipient has actually received the invoice. The Peppol network uses a 4-corner model which reassures the sender (corner 1: end user) at several levels that the message has got through. Figure 1 shows the Peppol 4-corner model and how the Peppol access points ensure that digital documents are sent and received securely.
Successful transmission between corner 2 (sending Peppol access point service provider) and corner 3 (receiving Peppol access point service provider) is confirmed by an AS4 transport acknowledgement. This acknowledgement is comparable to the receipt you receive when sending a recorded delivery via the postal service.
Naturally, the sender would also like to know whether the document he has sent is being processed. A significant obstacle here is data validation on the receiving end. Experience has shown that for B2G, which is responsible for the bulk of invoices exchanged by Peppol, invoices are often rejected during data validation on the receiving end before the receiver (corner 4) gets the documents. Most public bodies have a portal to which the senders can register. As well as offering functions for manually creating an invoice, this portal also provides digital tracking information.
However, it’s a bit of a hassle for companies to register to these portals and constantly check whether their messages have arrived where they need to be. The solution to this is for the recipient to actively share more tracking information.
How does Peppol let you know your message has arrived?
Alongside the transport acknowledgement, Peppol also provides confirmation at two further levels:
- Message level response
- Business level response, e.g. invoice response
Figure 2 shows the levels at which status messages are generated:
A transport acknowledgement is purely technical. It confirms whether the transmission has worked. In contrast, Peppol’s message level response (MLR) and business level responses actually refer to the content of the file – known as a business message – sent over the Peppol network.
Open Peppol has published business interoperability specifications (BIS 3.0) for both the message level response and the various business level responses.
The MLR tells the original sender whether or not the document has passed the validation checks at receipt. If so, the file is processed. If not, there is no further processing. The MLR contains detailed information on why the message has been rejected and what errors were found. The validation checks are based on the specifications defined for the file format. The recipient may also carry out his own validation checks. However, he may only reject the invoice if it fails one of the official, known tests.
A business level response is a response to a specific business document. When placing an order, you will receive an order response. When sending an invoice, you will get an invoice response. The latter is likely to tell whether the invoice has been approved for payment, or whether the recipient has rejected it because the unit price or other details don’t match the information in the recipient’s ERP system. A business level reponse is always based on cross-checking the details with those in the recipient’s ERP system.
How can you get a message level response from Peppol?
Before you can receive a message level response, you need to register with a service metadata publisher (SMP). This is a registry which records your Peppol identifiers and messaging capabilities. It also enables you to appear – and be found – in the Peppol Directory. When a business partner searches for you in the Peppol directory, your ability to receive a response at message level is shown under ‛supported document types’ for your entry, as in the image below.
When a business message is received, the recipient’s system checks whether the sender’s system is able to receive a message level response. These are usually exchanged between the respective Peppol access points. If the sender is registered to receive a message level response, this is sent over the Peppol network. As you can see in figure four, this goes in the opposite direction to the original message, namely from the recipient at corner 4 to the sender at corner 1. The message level response also contains a reference to the standard business document header (SBDH) or Peppol envelope of the original message so that the two messages can be linked.
Do you have to accept message level responses?
There are some Peppol authorities who have introduced mandatory message level responses on the Peppol network. This means that any sender based in one of the affected countries must be able to receive a message level response.
The aim of this is to improve B2G communication by having the same process for all players and reducing the need to sign in to portals. Particularly in international, cross-border business relationships, portals which require you to register to receive status information are a real obstacle. Introducing mandatory massage level responses is an attempt to remove this hurdle.
Message level responses are supported by a number of service providers on the receiving end, including some in countries which haven’t made this mandatory. Therefore, it’s important to be prepared to receive an MLR, at least when things go wrong.
What is a business level response?
In contrast to an MLR, you can’t generate a business level response without an ERP system. This could be an obstacle to introducing such a response.
It is relatively common to receive an order confirmation when purchasing goods or services. However, it is still unusual to receive an acknowledgement that your invoice has been received. This is true of both the digital and non-digital worlds. If your invoice is rejected, this is generally dealt with through direct communication. This means that most ERP systems simply don’t have the resources they would need to send a digital status report. However, if they and the processes around them were set up to send a digital status report, they should also be able to receive such a response.
Any company sending business level responses therefore needs to check whether their systems can also receive these. If so, they can register this ability in the service metadata, just like for a message level response.
At the moment, whether the authorities using Peppol support business level responses varies wildly from country to country. However, there tends to be a high level of support in the Northern countries as these also tend to have been pushing digitalisation for a longer period of time.
Invoice message response: an example of a business level response
An invoice message response (IMR) tells the seller – the one who issues the invoice – whether the buyer has accepted the invoice and approved payment. To this end, the buyer’s ERP system generates a message with information on the invoice’s current status and sends it to the seller.
Anyone sending an invoice or something else through Peppol can only benefit from using message level responses. They take away a lot of the uncertainty of whether the other side has received an invoice and is likely to have initiated payment. If you integrate the ability to send and receive message level responses into your processes, you won’t need to spend time chasing up payment or finding out what has happened to an invoice you have sent.
Adopting business level responses would be the icing on the cake. However, at present the obstacles (basically, ERP systems which haven’t yet been set up to send and receive these) means that it will take a while for them to become commonplace.
However, adopting message level responses would make a huge contribution to process transparency and reducing the workload of your finance department, at very little effort.
How can SEEBURGER help?
SEEBURGER is both a Peppol access point and a service metadata publisher (SMP). We fully support creating, sending and receiving message level responses. Any sender using our Peppol services can register their ability to receive MLRs via our app. Any MLR sent to him is then routed to him in corner 4 via the receiving access point (corner 3). SEEBURGER Services automatically passes on the information in the MLR to the relevant systems so that your tracking services show the correct status for your message.
SEEBURGER also supports customers wishing to receive business level responses. We have extensive experiences in connecting and integrating ERP systems, and you, too can benefit from our support and expertise.
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Written by: Katharina KochKatharina Koch, Product Manager, Business Unit Utilities, is responsible for management and product development in connection with market communication and SEEBURGER's e-invoicing solutions for the Utilities Industries. Katharina Koch has more than 15 years of business and technology experience in the utility industry, especially in the areas of market communication and SAP IS-U. Katharina Koch has been with SEEBURGER since January 2013.