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Simple UBL

As the SaaS accounting world matures a number of us have thought about how we send electronic invoices to each other.  It’s kinda crazy that you take an invoice out of an accounting application, flatten it into a pdf, and then someone has to retype it in to their accounting application.

We imagine a world where invoices and other business documents just appear in your accounting system.  No retyping, no errors. Major time saved.

We already have Xero to Xero transactions but it would be great to send invoices to any system.

It’s not just small business to small business.  Having small businesses using online systems makes it viable for large businesses (like Telco’s and Electricity companies) to produce electronic invoices that small businesses can now receive. That saves big business a lot of money.

One of the building blocks of business to business data interchange is to come up with an standard format.

Fortunately, other people with large brains have already done a lot of this work in the OASIS Universal Business Language specification.

Practically though, this is a big specification with lots of business documents. It’s hard to get your head around it.  And we really just need a simple subset to get started.  We could start again, but that would mean reinventing the wheel.

So what we’ve done is create an industry website for vendors to navigate through the UBL specification, starting with invoices, and to collaboratively define the minimum invoicing standard we should support.

You can check this out at

Please let us know what you think, if this is useful and what we should do next.


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Ben Kepes
18 September 2010 #

Good work Rod, I wrote about this 18 months ago and the things that stood in the way of making the change still do – vendors deadset against data portability and open standards. Will be interesting to see where your initiative goes…

Rod Drury
18 September 2010 #

Hopefully the time is right. As well as the vendors getting ready we’re seeing greater awareness from large business of the benefits of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) to their large base of small business customers.

Ian Sweeney
18 September 2010 #


good work. I think the time may be right to make this happen – especially if the small biz web folks get behind it.


Generally speaking I think vendors support this type of data portability – it’s transactional data that leaves the system anyway. I wrote about my thoughts on this last year –


18 September 2010 #

Sounds good, but what about Xero’s own invoices appearing inside the users’ systems (promised a long time ago)?

Rod Drury
19 September 2010 #

Hi Kristof, yes that is embarrassing. We still have much to do.

Manoj Ranaweera
20 September 2010 #

Hi Rod

Could have given you some insight if this question was asked in 2006/07. Legacy is at I can hook you up with Accountis if you would like. They are also an edocr customer just like you. and quick contact is And their ex CEO (now CTO) was a co-founder of edocr (no longer involved!)

FYI: We used ebis-XML as our format for the ebdex electronic document exchange (EIPP) I tried to build between 2004 to 2006. All history now, but BASDA is still very much active. And if you are not a member, I suggest you take a serious look

Best regards

Andrew Sewell
29 May 2012 #

Hi Rod
I wonder what progress Xero has made in adopting UBL/SimpleUBL for data interchange. I ask because I am in trying to convince a client to adopt the standard and having an existing community of UBL users may reduce the fear. What can you tell me?
You may have considered that no response on an indication of lack of interest. You should think again: my virus checker detects a nasty virus on the homepage and blocks my browser from proceeding. I may not be the only person blocked from participating in the discussion.
I’m looking forward to your response.

Rod Drury
29 May 2012 #

Hi Andrew, we were a bit early with UBL but doing quite a bit behind the scenes now and hope to be able to have some tangible fruits in the second half of this year. Connect by email if you want to chat.



Esben Stien
2 August 2014 #

Any update on this? Now it’s like the second half of two years later;)

Rod Drury
4 August 2014 #

@Esben, we were a bit early with this. The principles we are still working on and over the next few years we expect to see this work come to light as the online accounting industry matures.

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