ZUGFeRD – the electronic invoicing standard sweeping across Europe

by Carsten Heiermann, CEO of Foxit Europe

This might be the first time you’ve heard the word ZUGFeRD, but those working with the European market probably already know of it. ZUGFeRD, a German acronym for the “Central User Guide for Electronic Invoicing in Germany”, was developed to add long-needed standardisation to the e-invoicing format.

Flat PDF invoices 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 those who want to manually check an invoice, the PDF shows all the information in clear, human-readable form.

Making use of PDF/A format

Another important benefit is that the ZUGFeRD standard makes use of PDF/A format for long-term digital archiving. PDF/A is already widely used to store digital invoices, and with the PDF/A ISO standard part 3 (PDF/A-3), embedding of any file type was introduced as a PDF/A feature.

ZUGFeRD uses that file embedding by attaching the invoice data XML file, meaning both the human and machine-readable parts are stored together for records in just one file. Similar to the PDF/A and PDF/A-3 format itself, the embedded ZUGFeRD XML is a non-proprietary standard either.

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.

If your business has specialized PDF requirements such as ZUGFeRD, you should take a closer look at the subject of enterprise rendition in general—and Foxit Rendition Server in specific. Rendition Server lets you bring centralisd and standardized PDF services to the whole enterprise.

Of special note, when it comes to B2G (business to government) invoicing, the EU Member States are required to implement European e-invoicing between the public sector and its suppliers by November 27, 2018. For a list of EU countries and their processes toward this end, see this article .