What is UBL: Key Features, Benefits, and Applications

Efficiency and standardization are keys to success in the ever-evolving global commerce landscape.

Imagine a world where invoicing is seamless, where information flows effortlessly between businesses, without the need for endless manual data entry or compatibility struggles with different accounting systems.

Universal Business Language (UBL) is a structured format in an XML file containing all the information in a manual invoice but in a defined and fixed structure.

The format was developed through the collaborative efforts of the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), with one clear mission in mind: to define a standardized, royalty-free open library of electronic XML business documents.

First released in 2004, UBL was intended to be used in e-commerce by small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) but has now evolved into a crucial tool used worldwide for international procurement, including electronic invoicing.

Notably, the European Commission approved it for public administrations in November 2014, making UBL invoices increasingly sought after by European governments.

In this article, we'll dive into the OASIS Universal Business Language world and discover the key features, benefits, and real-world applications that are changing how we do business globally.



How does UBL work?

A UBL file is an official XML document, as previously indicated. However, the text elements and labels are written in XML code.

For those not deeply immersed in the world of technology, understanding the technical aspect of Universal Business Language (UBL) is essential. So, let’s break down the complexity.

UBL is, at its core, a markup language. A markup language, like XML, serves as a framework to structure and describe information and data so that software can understand and interpret it. In essence, it provides a standardized way to package and present data for computers and other devices.

What makes UBL particularly accessible is its simplicity, distilled into just two straightforward steps:


Step 1: Creating a UBL Document

Using the XML format, you craft a UBL document.

Within this document, you meticulously record all the essential business information related to a transaction.

Think of it as the digital embodiment of what a conventional invoice must contain.


Step 2: Sending and processing

Once your UBL document is ready, it can be transmitted to other software systems over a private network, employing secure protocols for data protection.

What's remarkable is that modern software and systems are so advanced that the recipient can automatically process, store, and efficiently manage the UBL document. It's a seamless and hands-free process.

To fully leverage UBL, you need software equipped to handle and work with this specific format.

This software acts as the bridge between your UBL document and the recipient's system. It's through this software that the magic of automation happens.

Experts and regulatory bodies concur that adopting UBL-based systems can transform businesses.



Key features of UBL

UBL's key features revolve around its role as a standardized, cost-effective, and highly adaptable language for electronic business document exchange. It offers benefits for organizations of all sizes in the digital age.

Here is a list of some of its key features:

Standardized XML business documents

UBL offers a library of standardized XML business documents. These documents encompass a wide range of commercial and logistical processes, including procurement, purchasing, transport, logistics, and more.


Common data exchange language

UBL acts as a common language (data format) that allows different business applications and trading communities to exchange information efficiently. It fosters interoperability in supply chain communication.


Ecosystem creation

Like HTML and HTTP did two decades ago, UBL is creating an entire computing ecosystem. It is rapidly becoming the equivalent of HTML for business documents in the digital age.


Integration with existing practices

UBL seamlessly integrates into existing business, accounting, legal, auditing, and records management practices. This integration eliminates the need for manual data re-keying, a common practice in traditional paper-based supply chains.



Who uses the UBL invoice?

Universal Business Language (UBL) invoices have garnered widespread adoption and implementation across a diverse range of sectors and regions.

Here's a snapshot of the organizations and industries that utilize UBL invoices:

Public sector invoicing in Denmark (OIOUBL)

UBL has been the foundation for public sector invoicing in Denmark since 2005, serving as OIOUBL. This implementation sets the stage for various European public procurement frameworks.


European public procurement frameworks

UBL underpins successful public procurement frameworks across Europe, including EHF in Norway, Svefaktura in Sweden, ePrior by the European Commission DIGIT, and the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom.


PEPPOL (Pan-European Public Procurement Platform)

The PEPPOL community, managed by OpenPEPPOL, facilitates the exchange of UBL-conformant documents among government agencies and suppliers in Austria, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Poland, and Sweden through a network of over 100 Access Points.


Global eInvoicing Implementations

UBL is also utilized in eInvoicing implementations worldwide, including E-Fatura in Turkey, Factura Electronica in Peru, SimplerInvoicing in the Netherlands, CHORUS-factures in France, and the global platform Tradeshift.


European eInvoice Service Providers Association (EESPA)

UBL is recommended by EESPA as the lingua franca for their Model Interoperability Agreement, emphasizing its significance in promoting interoperability among eInvoice service providers.


Transport and logistics domain

UBL has found relevance in the transport and logistics domain, contributing to initiatives like the European Common Framework (European Commission), DTTN in the Port of Hong Kong, TradeNet in the Port of Singapore, Electronic Freight Management in the United States, and Freightgate on a global scale.


Business organizations

UBL's adoption has expanded beyond the traditional supply chain. It's used by organizations such as the European Textile, Clothing, and Footwear  (eBiz-TCF) and Wehkamp, the largest online retailer in the Netherlands, highlighting its versatility.


Industry standardization platforms

UBL serves as a reference format in various industry standardization activities. Notable examples include CEN Workshop Agreement (CWA) 16667 in the Textile/Clothing and Footwear sectors, ISO TS 24533 for intelligent transport systems, and ISO TS 17187 for harmonizing syntaxes throughout the supply chain domain.

It's important to note that the list of UBL implementations is not exhaustive. UBL is available with open access, and many organizations worldwide may use it without formal registrations or approvals.

You may also like: Digital VAT: Mandatory e-Reporting and e-Invoicing for EU.



Why should you use UBL invoices?

Since the European Commission approved UBL in 2014 for tenders in public administrations, it has become the foundation for many European public frameworks, including PEPPOL, the pan-European procurement network.

The UBL format was developed to help simplify your invoice processing.

With UBL, Invoicing data can seamlessly flow between accounting systems without manual entry, meaning you don't need to be concerned about the specific accounting software your partners use.

UBL ensures compatibility due to the electronic standard of formatting it provides. This standardized format reduces the costs associated with e-invoices.

That said, UBL invoices are especially useful to government suppliers, IT / Finance Managers, CEOs, / Product Owners of ERP software companies and offer many benefits for sending and receiving invoices.

We will discuss these benefits in detail, but before we do that, let's take a quick look at the countries that require the UBL format.



What are the countries that require the UBL format?

Governments worldwide have recognized the transformative potential of the UBL format and digital invoicing in general, leading to the implementation of regulations and laws to promote their use.

Here are some notable examples of countries that require the UBL format:

Denmark

Denmark has been a pioneer in UBL adoption. It legislated the mandatory use of a customized version of UBL 0.7, known as OIOXML, for electronic invoicing in government procurement, starting in February 2005.

In March 2010, Denmark updated its regulations to mandate the use of a customized UBL 2.0 version called OIOUBL.

These UBL-based initiatives in Denmark resulted in significant savings of €500,000,000, demonstrating the cost-efficiency and effectiveness of UBL.


Spain

Spain uses UBL primarily for electronic invoice encoding, with guidelines developed by the UBL Spanish Localization Committee.


Turkey

Turkey has a UBL customization known as UBL-TR, which is used in the e-invoice process.


The Czech Republic

The Czech Republic utilizes ISDOC, a UBL 2.0 customization, for e-invoicing.


Peru

Peru's national tax and customs directorate, SUNAT, supports the customization of UBL 2.0 for electronic invoicing and plans to migrate to UBL 2.1.


Belgium

Belgium specified a UBL customization called E-FFF to enhance the interoperability of electronic invoices.


Sweden

Sweden's SFTI project uses Svefaktura, a UBL customization, for e-Invoicing and mandates PEPPOL for Swedish electrical authorities.


Colombia

Colombia's DIAN, the national tax and customs directorate, implements UBL 2 as the XML document format for electronic invoicing.


Norway

Norway's EHF format for e-Invoicing is based on UBL and CEN BII standards.


Australia and New Zealand

Australia and New Zealand have endorsed a UBL 2.1 subset for invoicing as part of efforts to increase digital participation in their economies.


Italy

Italy plans to implement UBL 2.1 syntax for e-procurement platforms to align with European standards.


Singapore

Singapore has established a PEPPOL Authority to promote digitalization and international marketplace access for businesses.


Japan

In Japan, a reference in Vanguard and technology, UBL, is also used to exchange commercial documents between companies.


United States and Canada

The Business Payments Coalition e-Invoicing Subcommittee for the United States and Canada released a review of an invoice semantic model using UBL 2.2.

These customizations and initiatives highlight the versatility and adaptability of UBL across diverse regions, contributing to the global adoption of standardized electronic invoicing and improved business processes.



How to create a UBL invoice?

We've explained the meaning of UBL and its benefits. But how do you create a UBL invoice?

Most European online accounting packages are compatible with UBL and enable you to create UBL invoices within your bookkeeping system.

After you've created the UBL invoice, you can send it to your client as an email attachment.

However, this function isn't the default setting for some accounting packages. So, remember to switch this option 'on' before you send your UBL format invoice.

If your bookkeeping system does not support the UBL format just yet, we recommend you find an external company to help you with UBL invoicing. For Dutch and Belgian companies, we recommend FactuurSturen.



How to send a UBL invoice?

If you want to send a UBL invoice, the first option is to send your UBL invoice (or invoices) as an email attachment.

Some companies, institutions, and governments require a 100% secure and safe delivery. This security requirement means you cannot use email to send your UBL invoice. You must use the PEPPOL network to send the invoice.

With PEPPOL, you can safely exchange electronic business documents through a highly secure and safe international network.

But before you can connect to this network, you will need to register at a PEPPOL Access Point to create a PEPPOL ID.



How to send UBL invoices to foreign companies and governments?

If you need to send e-invoices to international companies or public entities, you can use Storecove to safely send your UBL invoices worldwide.

We will convert your invoice format to the format required by the receiver. You can then send UBL invoices to companies and governments in countries that require the UBL format, such as those mentioned above.

We send all UBL invoices via the 100% secure PEPPOL network.



How to receive a UBL invoice?

There are two different methods for receiving UBL invoices:

  • Receiving the UBL invoice(s) through PEPPOL: This is the safest and fastest method.  You can use this e-invoicing solution to receive UBL through PEPPOL. We will automatically process your invoices into your bookkeeping system.
  • Receiving the UBL invoice(s) as an e-mail attachment:  In this case, you still have to upload your invoice manually into your bookkeeping software.

What is an UBL invoice and how can I send one with Storecove

How to request a PEPPOL ID?

You can request a PEPPOL ID at a PEPPOL Access Point, the gateway to the rest of the PEPPOL network.  There are over 200 certified access points available in the international network.

When you receive this unique identification number, you can send invoices to other businesses and governmental institutions connected to the PEPPOL network.

You can request your PEPPOL ID here.



Benefits of UBL invoice

There are many benefits to sending and receiving UBL invoices, including:

100% data recognition and accuracy

A UBL invoice’s standardized format enables the UBL invoice data to be automatically recognized and processed by the receiving system.

Therefore, no human data processing is required, with no manual errors. The data received by the recipient software is 100% accurate because there is no manual intervention.


UBL removes human error

Human interaction is removed from processing the invoice because the recipient automatically receives and recognizes it. Therefore, errors introduced by people processing the invoices are no longer a concern.


No more booking deadlines

Booking deadlines are removed from invoicing because invoicing data is automatically sent from one system to another.


UBL invoices are paid faster

UBL invoicing enables faster payments between systems and improves cash flow. On average, UBL invoice payments are 16 days faster than manual invoices.


No manual processing

The automatic recognition and processing of UBL invoices mean that no manual processing of UBL invoices is required. Because there is no manual processing, labor costs are lower, and less time is spent processing invoices.


More efficient

The time saved through the removal of manual processing, reduction in labor costs, 100% accuracy, and automation makes the UBL invoicing process many times more efficient than manual methods.


Reduced invoicing costs

The overall costs for processing UBL invoices are reduced due to the elimination of manual processing and human errors, the increase in the speed of payments, and the efficiency of the end-to-end invoicing process.


Cost reduction for small businesses

UBL's proven royalty-free XML syntax encourages the development of cost-effective software solutions. This lowers the entry barriers for small businesses into electronic networks used by larger trading partners, eliminating the need for expensive custom software.


End of EDI Era

UBL signifies a departure from the costly one-off software systems prevalent in the Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) era, making electronic business more accessible and cost-effective.


Comprehensive business support

UBL features extended support for various business processes and improved data definitions. For instance, it features functionalities like vendor-managed inventory, utility billing, eTendering, and transportation documents.



Takeaway: UBL simplifies invoice processes

Sending and receiving invoices abroad used to be complex, expensive, and confusing because of multiple standard formats.

UBL simplifies the process, allowing information to flow effortlessly between businesses without the need for endless manual data entry or compatibility struggles with different accounting systems.

Although UBL is helpful in B2B, B2C, and B2G transactions and is being implemented in many countries, it still has a long way to go. UBL is available with open access, and many organizations worldwide may use it without formal registrations or approvals.

Do you need help with UBL invoicing? We are a PEPPOL Access Point provider. This means you can send and receive invoices internationally through our platform quickly.

Schedule a demo with one of our e-invoicing experts today!



More information about UBL invoices?

Do you need help with sending UBL invoices to customers? We are happy to assist. Contact us if you:

  • Need help with the switch to e-invoicing;
  • Need assistance with setting up your account;
  • Want to discuss other e-invoicing matters.

Call us on +31 (0) 20 261 17 91 or send an e-mail to helpdesk@storecove.nl.


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