IBM Hopes to Standardize Contractual Exchanges

SAN MATEO (01/31/2000) - Diverging from the trend that has seen a number of companies offer industry-specific, vertical variations of XML (extensible markup language), IBM Corp. today proposed an XML-based specification that would provide a standardized form for contracts across industries.

Submitted to OASIS (the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards), a vendor-neutral standards body, the proposed tpaML (trading partners agreement markup language) specification would standardize the way companies exchange contracts with their trading partners, said Marie Wieck, director of XML technology at IBM.

The foundation of the standard is what IBM is calling the TPA (trading partner agreement), which is simply a document that provides information such as contract terms and conditions, participant roles, communication and security protocols, and business processes. Once those items are determined, tpaML can then be used to capture that information which is essential, and carry out the necessary communications to complete a contractual agreement.

"Think of it almost as an envelope for your contract," Wieck said. "It spells out all the pieces you could fill in as well as what kind of transport carrier you want."

While such extensions to XML are not new, to date the majority of proposed specifications have been focused on standardizing communications across vertical industries, not between industries.

According to Wieck, however, that does not differentiate tpaML from the other specifications, it simply demonstrates the need for both industry-specific and industry-independent standards.

"They have domain expertise in vertical industries to capture the right information, but this is a cross-industry capability that will not only help those within industries connect in common way, but facilitate people across industries communicating in a standardized way," Wieck said. "(For that reason) we're really doing both. We're still very active with the verticals as well as the horizontals."

In an effort to promote the new specification, IBM has already signed on several software vendors and solution providers, including CommerceQuest, DataChannel, Extricity, Intelisys, PeopleSoft, and Sterling Commerce, that say they will explore uses for tpaML with their customers. Big Blue will also work closely with OASIS and its members in an effort to finalize the specification and eventually grow it into an official standard.

IBM Corp., in Armonk, New York, is at

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