ebXML Primer

By Sean Gallagher  |  Posted 2002-05-15 Print this article Print

ebXML stands for electronic business using eXtensible Markup Language (XML). Find out all you need to know about it in this technology primer.

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  • What is it?

    A collection of standardized message structures and vocabularies for conducting automatic business-to-business transactions using the Internet or e-mail. The acronym stands for electronic business using eXtensible Markup Language (XML).

  • Who came up with it?

    The United Nations trade-policy group UN/CEFACT and OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) began work in the fall of 1999 and published the first specifications in May 2001.

  • How does it work?

    Like all open-source initiatives, by virtue of users adhering to what is specified. What's specified are Web and e-mail methods for registering products and services; message formats and syntaxes; descriptions of how to use the products and services; and guidelines for setting up contracts and exchanging the messages themselves. [See the chart at left.]

  • What's missing?

    Industry-specific vocabularies. ebXML standardizes electronic business at a high level—how to talk about and package documents. But it doesn't specify what the documents themselves should look like. To automate business beyond the exchange of messages, each industry needs a custom XML vocabulary.

  • Why should I care?

    If it's fully adopted—and the chances look good—ebXML will let companies of any size, using any computing platform, conduct business over the Internet. Dealing with more partners could mean increased revenue; automating transactions over the Internet instead of private networks could substantially reduce costs.

  • What competes with it?

    Any standard way of exchanging data is a rival, although ebXML works as a supplement to most of them. The main competition comes from established Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) standards, like the Accredited Standards Committee's (ASC) X12, and from gateways built into EDI software using Web services or enterprise application integration middleware. Microsoft's BizTalk and the XML/EDI Group's eponymous initiative are recent efforts to standardize data exchange. The RosettaNet consortium has already built a set of XML protocols (the RosettaNet Implementation Framework, or RNIF), data dictionaries and interfaces, but its focus is on the technology industry. Other standards, like those that make up Web services [See the Baseline primer, October 2001, p. 99] could compete with ebXML, but will more likely be integrated with it.

  • Who's using it now?

    The auto industry is an early adopter—the Standards for Technology in Automotive Retail (STAR) group, which includes the National Association of Auto Dealers and nearly every automobile manufacturer in the U.S. market, has made ebXML the basis for its business-to-business messaging service. Covisint, the auto industry marketplace, has adopted and implemented ebXML as part of its exchange, in combination with the Open Application Group's OASIS XML document standards. The Canadian government is deploying an electronic procurement system based on ebXML and BizTalk.

  • What's next?

    Standards are converging: The RosettaNet consortium is incorporating ebXML messaging services standards into its next version of RNIF, and Microsoft says it is addressing differences between BizTalk and ebXML. But for the time being, companies will likely continue to build internal data exchanges and simple Web services using more-general standards like SOAP, XML remote procedure calls and the Universal Description, Discovery and Integration directory standard.

    Reference: Automating Business Processes

    At the core of ebXML are four sets of standards designed for specific steps in the process. Each can be adopted independently of the others.

    Step 1: Describe the business processes you want to share, using XML or eXtensible Common Business Language (XCBL)
    Specification: Business Process Specification Schema/Core Components

    Step 2: Register descriptions of your business and of the processes you want to share in a common XML repository
    Specification: Registry Information Model

    Step 3: Explain your transaction system's messaging capabilities, how to use the processes you're sharing, and the contractual terms
    Specification: Collaboration Protocol Profile and Agreement Specification

    Step 4: Package and send your electronic business documents
    Specification: Message Service Specification

    Sean Gallagher is editor of Ziff Davis Internet's enterprise verticals group. Previously, Gallagher was technology editor for Baseline, before joining Ziff Davis, he was editorial director of Fawcette Technical Publications' enterprise developer publications group, and the Labs managing editor of CMP's InformationWeek. A former naval officer and former systems integrator, Gallagher lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland.

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