SOAPing the supply chain

In 2004, CIOs can expect to hear much more about a new standard to streamline supply chain technology: ebXML.

A framework for global electronic business, ebXML allows organisations to find each other and conduct business based on well-defined XML messages, within the context of business processes governed by a standard or mutually negotiated partner agreement.

This new standard promises a grand unification of everything businesses do to communicate with each other.

While the supply chain has become a critical factor in gaining competitive advantage, the electronic data interchange (EDI) technology which supports the streamlining of supply chains between larger organisations is losing favour, especially among smaller businesses, due to inflexible architectures and deployment over expensive, dedicated value added networks (VANs).

A number of key benefits underpins the drive to extend e-commerce infrastructure with the lower-cost ebXML replacement.

The ebXML format is not designed to make it easier to support multiple document standards, and make it simpler for those companies to interoperate not to force businesses to choose a single document standard.

The ebXML format is clearly being leveraged today. The ebXML effort benefited greatly from the energetic involvement of multiple industry groups and the EDI community with its rich background of e-business experience. Multiple industries and vendors are implementing ebXML in real-world pilots.

E-business is becoming more mature and sophisticated, and ebXML has been designed to address new and complex needs in an affordable way. An interoperable framework based on the Internet and XML will help contain the cost of purchasing new shared e-business processes. Organisations want multiple e-commerce channels. We’re seeing customers request e-mail, AS2 as well as XML and ebXML as new e-commerce trading standards.

As a framework, ebXML is both “evolutionary” and “revolutionary”. It allows businesses that have made big technology investments to leverage and build upon that investment. The modular nature of the ebXML framework lets organisations migrate to XML and address new business scenarios at their own pace, without needing to start from scratch. It is revolutionary because an organisation can overhaul a particular legacy infrastructure for certain e-business initiatives, or may choose ebXML for new projects.

Mathew McDougall is VP of business integration, Sterling Commerce APAC

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