Vendors struggle to get online 'Yellow Pages' rolling

An online directory that was billed as a breakthrough in e-commerce because of its potential to make online business easier to conduct appears to be floundering, as some of its big-name backers have failed to take some basic steps to move the "Yellow Pages" of the Internet along.

The directory, called UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, Integration), was launched last September with fanfare typical of a technology meant to revolutionize online business. Companies leading the project claimed they developed an effective way to organize businesses around the globe that would also make it easier for companies to find partners or customers over the Internet.

Companies can join UDDI for free by entering basic information about their businesses into a registry. The information includes company name, contact information, location of business units, types of products and services the company offers and data on what types of technology a company uses to conduct e-commerce. When thousands, or even millions, of companies register with UDDI, vendors should be able to search quickly for possible business partners, possibly conducting transactions with UDDI's help.

The project, however, cannot reach its full potential without wide industry support and many of the major players, including Hewlett-Packard Co., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Oracle Corp., have made little public progress with their UDDI efforts. Their lagging participation in the project not only highlights the difficulty of orchestrating such a broad industry undertaking but may also set a bad example for other companies thinking of joining the project.

HP, for example, has teamed with Microsoft Corp. and IBM Corp. as one of the project managers, overseeing maintenance of the UDDI directory and maintaining the servers that house registrations. While agreeing to take on this prominent role, HP has yet to take the first steps to become part of UDDI by registering its corporate name in the directory.

Like many companies slow to move with UDDI, HP said it is difficult to organize a company-wide effort around this type of project. From legal requirements to technology issues, large companies face hurdles and are struggling to give their services a public face.

"There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed before developing services with the UDDI registry," said Ben Brauer, product marketing manager for UDDI at HP. "A company needs to determine which processes need to be Web servicized and which types of services they would like to deploy in a public manner."

Similarly, Sun posted only its company name and entered "12345" as its company phone number in the directory.

It takes time to meet all of the necessary internal approvals for this effort, a Sun official said, but admitting that the big-name vendors should set a better example with their UDDI commitment "At this point we are still low on the registration of solid business information," said Susan Struble, manager of the XML (Extensible Markup Language) Technology Center at Sun. "We are still at an evangelism state with UDDI and the world of Web services. You will see us put the basic information up soon which is easy to do and needs to be done."

One analyst agreed that UDDI is a massive undertaking to develop, but added that the big-name vendors should be putting their best foot forward, as they will likely benefit the most from the directory.

"It is a sad state of affairs," said Tyler McDaniel, director of application strategies at research firm Hurwitz Group Inc. "The big vendors have an enormous responsibility of generating the adoption, momentum and education around this project."

HP, in particular, should be setting a strong example for others in the project given its leadership position, he said. The company, however, "does not have a good track record of executing on a software strategy" and seems to be mired by this problem again, McDaniel said.

"You would imagine that within a company its size, HP would be able to dedicate resources to UDDI," he said.

Putting basic information into the directory is fairly simple, and a few companies have set a good example to follow.

Microsoft, IBM and Intel Corp. have all registered extensive information on the UDDI directory, consisting of basic points of contact at their companies and various links to information about their services and products. The companies also posted several business descriptions that could help partners gain insight into their technology infrastructure.

The good examples, however, are few and far between among the top vendors involved with the project.

About 15 companies make up the UDDI working group that is directly responsible for developing the technology to push the project along. Vendors in the group include Microsoft, IBM, HP, Sun, Intel, Compaq Computer Corp. and Oracle.

While many of these vendors have touted UDDI as a key to pushing e-business forward and have preached to others to sign up for UDDI, only about half of the 15 companies have registered any information in the directory at this time.

Representatives in the project from Microsoft, IBM and Intel were hesitant to charge other companies with lagging on the project, saying that a lot of work is being done behind the scenes. Many companies said they are waiting until version 2 of the registry arrives in October to begin posting their information, hoping to center their effort around the new technology instead of coming aboard now. In the meantime, they are working to figure out the parts of their company they will open to the public.

"The data is going in slower than some expected," said Joel Munter, senior software engineer at Intel.

Munter would like to see others become more actively involved with UDDI, but he said it is often easier for smaller companies to organize their forces around this type of effort.

Similarly, Microsoft's group project manager for UDDI and Web services, Chris Kurt, said he is "looking forward to seeing others move forward with their implementations."

Kurt and Munter have worked closely together on UDDI and said they expect thousands if not millions of companies to be registered in the directory by this time next year.

Until this flood of companies arrives, users can look at what some of the smaller, more active players in UDDI have already done with the directory. XMethods, in particular, has done some leading work with UDDI, already posting four Web services with its registration.

The company provides an online book price-quoting services, a text message system, stock quotes and a currency exchange rate service.

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