What's Behind Electronic Business XML - InformationWeek

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2/27/2004
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What's Behind Electronic Business XML

The United Nations continues work with a standards body on a set of specifications designed to make electronic document exchange affordable for all companies.

If your company has implemented a simple Web service--such as putting sales leads online for your sales force--then somewhere down the road, Electronic Business XML may be in your future. The business-collaboration standard goes beyond specifying how information should be distributed, adding reliability and security specifications to your documents as you exchange messages with business partners across the Web.

The Organization for Advancement of Structured Information Standards, a standards body, jointly develops ebXML with the United Nations. Version 2.0 was issued in 2002. The two groups are working to specify standards that let companies define and add certifiable business processes to document exchange, says Jamie Clark, Oasis' manager for technical-standards development.

Electronic Business XML is already serving as the leading business exchange language in Europe and Asia, and it's being adopted by the U.S. Department of Defense and the automotive industry in the United States. The standard is used less broadly in the United States than elsewhere because some vertical-industry groups are far along in developing their own XML standards for exchanges, such as the electronic industry's RosettaNet or the insurance industry's Acord.

The adoption of ebXML by the automotive industry indicates that "there's nothing holding it back any longer. It's clearly ready for prime time," says Patrick Gannon, president of Oasis.

The standard was explicitly designed to be nonproprietary, Gannon says. Its original development was co-sponsored by Oasis and the U.N. Center for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business to allow everything from a large international company to a mom-and-pop business to engage in electronic information exchange. It was designed to extend the benefits of EDI to "the other 95% of the population" that couldn't afford EDI's complexity or expense, Gannon says.

Oasis in October set up a task force to write a Business Process Specification Schema that would allow business processes, such as notification of an incoming order, to be built into an ebXML exchange. In addition to the specifications for XML exchanges, ebXML now includes open-source software that supports its implementation. Message Handling Server is an ebXML parsing server available from the Center for eCommerce Infrastructure Development in Hong Kong.

RosettaNet is reviewing ebXML's message retry, a reliability feature, to add to its specifications as a way of avoiding duplication of effort, Gannon notes. The U.N. Center for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business has another standard under development, called Business Collaboration Framework, according to the center's Web site. That framework would allow business processes to be modeled using a universal technique that could then serve as the basis for building software around the processes.

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