Blockchain Use Cases for Distributed Accounting and Open Standards

This article explains why I elected to adopt UBL standards for billing with my project, which will use blockchains and smart contract tokens to create a single source of truth in the billing process.

The implications of Blockchain and the advantages in leveraging rather than hacking at new ways to do the same billing process are supported by this article. In essence the model at http://bbiller provides an end to end service delivery solution based on well endorsed and accepted international standards.

Overview — what is UBL?

UBL, the Universal Business Language, defines a royalty-free library of standard XML business documents supporting digitization of the commercial and logistical processes for domestic and international supply chains such as procurement, purchasing, transport, logistics, intermodal freight management, and other supply chain management functions.

UBL can be thought of as a lingua-franca — a (data format) language that allows disparate business applications and trading communities to exchange information along their supply chains using a common format.

Objectives — why do we need UBL?

We believe that the standardization of a proven, pragmatic, royalty-free XML syntax will encourage the proliferation of inexpensive off-the-shelf-software that “natively speaks” UBL and will thus drastically lower the cost of entry for small businesses into the electronic networks used by their larger trading partners. To put it another way, UBL means the end of the expensive one-off software systems that typified the EDI era.

UBL also provides the opportunity to end the debate over standards for business document formats that has discouraged the adoption of new technologies for conducting business in the digital age such as Blockchains.

Functionality — what can it be used for?

UBL is designed to plug directly into existing business, accounting, legal, auditing, and records management practices, eliminating the re-keying of data required by traditional fax, scanned-image and paper-based supply chains and in doing so provides an entry point into electronic business for small and medium-sized businesses.

Although designed for use in business supply chains it can be (and has been) adapted for other contexts of use. This is because all the business document constructs in a UBL are drawn from a single library of reusable components. This ensures a high degree of alignment among the various parts of the UBL specification, and the assembly of XML schemas from a common element base facilitates code reuse in processing applications.

UBL Traction — who uses UBL?

Beginning with the 2005 adoption of UBL for all public sector invoicing in Denmark (known as OIOUBL), UBL has become the foundation for a number of successful European public procurement frameworks, including EHF (Norway), Svefaktura (Sweden), ePrior (European Commission DIGIT), the National Health Service (UK), and PEPPOL, the pan-European public procurement platform. The PEPPOL community (OpenPEPPOL) serves government agencies and their suppliers from Austria, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Poland, and Sweden through a network of over 100 Access Point all exchanging UBL conformant documents.

Other implementations for eInvoicing include E-Fatura (Turkey), Factura Electronica (Peru), SimplerInvoicing (the Netherlands), CHORUS-factures (France) and Tradeshift (globally). The European eInvoice Service Providers Association (EESPA) also recommends UBL as the lingua franca for their Model Interoperability Agreement.

UBL has also become foundational to a number of efforts in the transport and logistics domain, including the European Common Framework (European Commission), DTTN (Port of Hong Kong), TradeNet (Port of Singapore), Electronic Freight Management (US), and Freightgate (globally).

In keeping with the original vision of UBL as a standard basis for electronic business in general, UBL is now increasingly used by organizations whose scope extends beyond the generic supply chain. These include the European Textile, Clothing, and Footwear industry group (eBiz-TCF) and Wehkamp, the largest online retailer in the Netherlands.

UBL is also incorporated as a reference format in a small but growing number of industry standardisation activities. These include CEN Workshop Agreement (CWA) 16667, Reference Architecture 2.0 for eBusiness Harmonisation in Textile/Clothing and Footwear Sectors, ISO TS 24533, an international technical specification developed by ISO TC 204 (Intelligent Transport Systems) for data interoperability in the movement and intermodal transfer of freight, and a companion international specification, ISO TS 17187, that identifies UBL as the collaborative syntax for harmonizing other syntaxes used throughout the supply chain domain for tracking the shipment of goods.

The implementations listed above are by no means exhaustive. UBL is available with open access. This means no registrations or approvals are required and there are no license fees to use UBL. As such it is not possible to know all the current implementations. We welcome details of other implementations if the owners are willing to share them.

UBL Sanction — who has endorsed UBL?

UBL is the product of an open and accountable OASIS Technical Committee with participation from a variety of international and industry data standards organizations. It was originally approved as an OASIS standard in 2004 and is among the most mature and widely implemented OASIS Standards. The current version, UBL 2.1 (PDF), was approved in 2013.

In 2014 the European Commission declared UBL 2.1 was officially eligible for referencing in tenders from public administrations (one of the first non-European standards to be so recognized).

In 2015 UBL 2.1 was also approved as ISO/IEC 19845:2015, establishing UBL as a true international standard for use by governmental bodies globally. With this endorsement UBL has reached the maximum level of sanction possible for an international standard.

UBL was conceived as the part of the UN/CEFACT-OASIS ebXML partnership that would standardize XML data formats for electronic business. While widely used outside of ebXML and independent of any particular infrastructure framework, UBL continues to complement the ebXML framework of standards.

Also within OASIS, UBL complements and in some cases builds upon the work of the Tax-XML, eGov, Code List Representation, and Business Document Exchange Technical Committees.

Last (but not least) UBL provides components to realize the Open-edi model in real-world trading communities as described by the Open-edi Reference Model standardized as ISO/IEC 14662:2010. As such UBL is a key component of the contribution of OASIS to the ISO/IEC/ITU/UNECE eBusiness MoU.

The financial information capabilities of UBL have been enhanced in the areas of financial accounting, payment mandates, trade financing, currency handling, and payments reconciliation in order to support downstream processing of invoices within financial services. Legal information capabilities have been enhanced to support advanced procurement and global trade using business models such as outsourcing, application service provision, and virtual services via cloud computing.

See my whitepaper at for further details on how the key use cases and contracts between UBL and blockchains are emerging and the project performing the transformation.


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