XML and Your Business
So youíre probably wondering: ďThis XML stuff Iíve been hearing
about, is it just a geek toy or is there some way I can apply
it to my business?Ē This edition of The Geneer Business Report
examines some ways that you can incorporate XML into your business
today, and some trends that could affect you in the future.
First Off, What is XML?
From a business perspective, XML can be considered a common
language that allows differing business systems to talk to one
another. Thereís been a lot of hype about XML, and many people
seem to think it will save the world, in one way or another.
But XML is not the Holy Grail; itís a way of constructing conversations
between business systems.
XML is not magic, and itís not a quick fix for all communications
problems. To understand what XML can do, consider the following
analogy. Letís suppose we all agreed to speak French whenever
we discuss business. While this might solve some problems by
giving us a common ground, it by no means ensures perfect communication.
I might refer to an invoice using one French word (facture);
you might use a different word (relevť). We could still have
problems communicating due to the vocabulary and syntax we use.
So it is with XML, but with a distinct difference: When you
communicate using XML, you can refer to a particular standard
that defines the meaning of the terms you use. Itís sort of
like including a dictionary and a grammar book along with your
message. All terms in the message are explained in the definition,
which is called a Data Type Definition (DTD). This makes the
communication much easier. In our imaginary French conversation,
I would include in my document a reference to a DTD that defines
facture to mean invoice. When you read it, you can find out
that Iím talking about an invoice by also referencing the DTD.
As you can imagine, the various terms used in business communications
vary drastically across industries, and as a result, there are
dozens of standards bodies defining the DTDs for their industries.
You can access a list
of many of them.
What Does XML Mean to My Business?
If you are using Microsoft Office 2000, youíre already using
XML. Microsoft is one of the many software vendors to make a
big commitment to XML. Like most Microsoft efforts, this means
they have their own XML standard, called BizTalk. And XML figures
very prominently in Microsoftís new .NET initiative. So youíll
be seeing a lot more of XML in the future.
Where XML will do the most good, however, is in the exchange
of business documents such as purchase orders, invoices, and
bills of lading. Right now, chances are good you have some kind
of software system that enables you to deal with these documents.
You probably can generate a purchase order or an invoice, and
perhaps you turn that document into paper and mail or fax it
to your trading partner. Wouldnít it be nice if you could email
that document, or even better, have your system automatically
transfer it to your trading partner? And if you could have your
system automatically deal with your partnerís response to that
document, think of all the manual entry and error you could
Of course weíre describing business-to-business electronic
commerce (B2B e-commerce), and, while it is not necessary to
use XML to achieve it, the majority of B2B players are. For
example, the two major eProcurement vendors, Ariba and Commerce
One, each use a flavor of XML to automate buying and selling
in their marketplaces. Ariba uses Commerce XML (cXML), and Commerce
One uses XML Common Business Language (xCBL). If you want to
connect your systems to either companyís marketplace, youíll
need to use their flavor of XML. Once thatís done, though, youíll
be able to completely automate the buying and selling of goods
either on the Ariba Commerce Services Network or the Commerce
One Global Trading Web.
Another area in which XML is becoming important involves electronic
commerce trading partner standards. An effort initiated by Ariba,
IBM, and Microsoft, called the Universal Description, Discovery
and Integration (UDDI) Project, has recently established a central
database, based on XML, of trading partner characteristics.
Businesses will uses this registry to find out about the capabilities
of existing or prospective trading partners. The registry allows
your business to:
- list a definition of itself and its services
- define how a partner can conduct e-commerce with your business
- describe the business services your Web sites offer
Once you register, your business is accessible through searches
by potential buyers and marketplaces. You can register for free
How Do I Get Started?
To get ready to conduct e-commerce with your existing and prospective
trading partners, youíll need to make your existing systems
XML-compliant. And hereís where a development partner like Geneer
can help by assisting you in selecting the XML standards to
support as well as creating Internet e-commerce processes that
enable you to communicate with partners over the Internet. Geneerís
consultants can help you assess your e-commerce readiness, make
recommendations for adapting your systems for trading over the
Web, and create the new systems that will bring all the opportunities
and savings of B2B e-commerce to your organization.