Explore Your E-Business Directory Mgmt. Options

FRAMINGHAM (04/03/2000) - Companies are finding e-business directories to be a whole different kettle of fish than internal directories. Whereas intranet directories manage information about employees and long-term contractors, e-business directories are used to manage trading partner relationships.

External directories contain information about your customers, suppliers and trading partners. A human resources system will help you keep track of personnel changes within your corporation, but you probably don't have a good handle on employee changes at other companies.

Companies often assume they'll be able to manage the external directory population themselves, but as the number of trading partners grow, the workload grows with it. One solution is to appoint one external administrator from each trading partner and let him manage his people and groups in your directory.

For example, Oblix Inc. sells directory administration tools for intranets and extranets, and supports delegating administration down multiple levels, thus allowing the administrator of a large trading partner to delegate administration to subordinates. Other features include managing external directory additions, deletions, and security role or group changes.

However, delegated administration is only a stopgap solution for the e-business directory problem. Clearly your company wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of delegated administration too often, administering the same old adds and deletes for 100 trading partners.

Maybe automation will do the trick. Companies could deploy directory synchronization tools or full metadirectory services that hook up their directories to trading partners' directories. But with hundreds of trading partners in complex e-business relationships, manageability and security issues would ensue.

Lightweight Directory Access Protocol referral, which allows you to get information on the fly from another company's directory, seems promising on the surface. But planners have not been comfortable losing the security, availability and performance assurances that come from controlling their directories. They also haven't been entirely comfortable with opening up their directories to external inquiries.

Community directories represent yet another architecture alternative. Find a industry association or service provider and get them to host a copy of directory information for each organization in a group of like-minded trading partners. Of course, most companies would need to belong to multiple communities. Public-key infrastructure vendors or service providers may have an edge in building community directories because they follow well-defined procedures to register identities.

With all these options, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. You'll need to combine elements of one or more e-business directory management approaches. Buy or build some technology. And stay flexible.

Blum is senior vice president and principal consultant with The Burton Group, an IT advisory service. He can be reached at dblum@tbg.com.

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