UBL Set to Shake Up Electronic Commerce - Page 2

By eweek  |  Posted 2003-02-04 Print this article Print

eWEEK: How will UBL tie into BPEL [Business Process Execution Language] for Web Services and WSFL [Web Services Flow Language]? Bosak: UBL is the XML expression of the documents we use for international trade. I leave it to the designers of BPEL and WSFL to figure out how theyre going to deal with that. UBL is just about standard messages; it assumes that choreography and business process modeling is taken care of at a different layer.
eWEEK: What products will Sun make that will take advantage of this standard?
Bosak: No comment. eWEEK: In the future, does this somehow indicate that packaged applications will become unnecessary? Bosak: No, not at all. But it should make packaged applications a lot easier to write. Processing a fixed XML tag set is vastly simpler than processing arbitrary XML. So I do think that well see the application space opening up to a much larger number of companies than the handful that dominate business software today. eWEEK: What tools will immediately make use of these schemas? Bosak: Well, any generic XML tool can of course process the XML schemas. For example, in the UBL design work, weve been using some copies of XML Spy donated by Altova for this purpose. I think the first specialized tools for UBL will probably be UBL page formatters and forms input programs, because you can create functional versions of these just by configuring existing XML input and output tools. A Java program that can display UBL documents on a PDA became available from Ambrosoft two days after we announced the schemas. I think youll see a lot of action in this area as independent implementers start to figure out what they can do with a standard XML markup for business. eWEEK: What are RosettaNet and others doing with this? Bosak: RosettaNet is one of the data exchange organizations that has appointed liaisons to provide guidance and input to UBL. [See http://oasis-open.org/committees/ubl/lsc/.] Im sure they are taking a close look at what weve just released. eWEEK: How do DocBooks and ebXML tie in? Bosak: DocBooks is an XML standard for books and articles, especially technical publications. Its a great example of a specific XML tag set developed by a whole industry to meet a specific need. You might say that UBL is to business documents what DocBooks is to printed documents, but of course weve learned a lot about document design in the 10 years since DocBooks was originally developed. With regard to ebXML, as I said earlier, ebXML is the initiative from which UBL came, so there is a perfect fit there. UBL assumes the kind of infrastructure that ebXML provides, and since ebXML is currently the only nonproprietary infrastructure for B2B, we think thats pretty important. But theres no reason that UBL cant be used in a wide variety of other Web services frameworks, as well. They all need something to fit the slot labeled "message payload" in order to work for B2B, and Im not seeing anything else as well-thought-out as UBL to play that role. eWEEK: What happens to xCBL—does UBL affect it? Bosak: Youre referring to the fact that UBL took xCBL as its starting point. Starting with something that already had three years of e-commerce marketing experience built into it certainly gave UBL a big leg up on a credible solution, but the specification has evolved so much beyond xCBL at this point that it cant really be considered a direct replacement. You cant switch over from xCBL to UBL just by replacing the schemas—the vocabulary is different, and the use of W3C Schema technology has received another year and a half of development. So it should be fairly easy for xCBL users to map to UBL, but I dont know how quickly theyll be able to make the change. You should ask the people responsible for xCBL about that. eWEEK: Any other comments? Bosak: I think its time for us to face the fact that electronic commerce is a form of commerce, not a form of electronics. People seem to forget that were not inventing a worldwide system of trade; weve already got one of those, and its taken about 4,000 years to put it in place. Its got its own methods, its own laws, its own systems of customs and taxation. Its unrealistic to think that well transform traditional business and legal systems overnight. What we need are technologies like UBL and ebXML that allow businesses of every size to make the transition to electronic commerce incrementally, to upgrade pieces of their infrastructure in place so that they can achieve maximum ROI within their particular context and with a minimum of disruption to their existing business. By providing standard XML versions of EDI messages and paper documents, UBL is designed to enable this incremental transition to electronic commerce. eWEEK Labs Director John Taschek can be reached at john_taschek@ziffdavis.com.


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