EDI users looking for a less expensive B2B transport method may have an option with an emerging standard under consideration by the Internet Engineering Task Force.
AS (Applicability Statement) 2 is a specification for dealing with business-to-business communications data that will enable companies to maintain their investment in electronic data interchange technology while getting some of the flexibility of the Internet.
In draft form now, AS2 is a standard by which applications transmit EDI or other data, such as XML, over the Internet using HTTP. Like its predecessor, AS1, AS2 specifies the means to connect, deliver, validate and reply to data; it does not concern itself with the content of the EDI document, only the transport.
AS2 essentially creates a wrapper around EDI flat files that enables sending them over the Internet, instead of over an expensive VAN (value-added network). In addition, AS2 provides security and encryption around the HTTP packets.
Pat Ranga, manager of technical services at MDV-Nash Finch Co., a commissary supplier based in Norfolk, Va., is testing Cleo Communications AS2 module, Cleo LexiCom.
"[The goal] is to implement EDI over the Internet. That is a critical piece; its a cost savings. VAN charges are pretty high, and that is an area where we have always tried to save money," said Ranga. "The payoff is within a month, we can have return on investment. If we get two trading partners [transacting over the Internet using AS2], it more than pays for the license of the software. It does not require any huge training."
Cleo, a Rockford, Ill.-based division of DFI Communications Inc., last week announced that Cleo LexiCom successfully completed the certification process for conformance to AS2.
Ranga said he skipped testing and implementation of AS1 because it was cost-prohibitive and interest from trading partners was not high.
"AS2 is much better," Ranga said. "Its completely encrypted. Some [partners] are pretty finicky with their data, and they wanted security with it. Whereas this one, if youre making a direct connection with a partner, youre not going through any [third-party] partner; youre going directly into their server."
Software makers SeeBeyond Technology Corp.; GE Global Exchange Services, or GXS; BTrade Inc.; Cyclone Commerce Inc.; IPNet Solutions Inc.; ISoft Corp.; TrailBlazer Systems Inc.; and WebMethods Inc. earlier this month completed an interoperability test that validated the ability of software vendors to interoperate and communicate with EDI data via AS2.
Even though AS2 is still in draft form before the IETF, SeeBeyond and GXS are pushing out products that support it.
SeeBeyond, of Monrovia, Calif., is readying Version 4.5.3 of its Exchange Partner Manager B2B integration module, which adds support for AS2 and other protocols. That module, along with others in the 4.5.3 version of the companys integration platform, will be rolled out this month, next month and in October.
GXS, of Gaithersburg, Md., earlier this month released an AS2 module that helps users connect to trading partners securely through the Internet. The module is part of the GXS Enterprise System 7.5 integration broker.
Transportation and logistics resources provider Transplace Inc. is using GXS Enterprise System 7.5 and the AS2 module to connect new trading partners over the Internet. The company, which was formed two years ago through a merger of the logistics business units of several large truckload carriers, has two business units: Logistics, which puts freight on trucks, and Fleet Services, which provides an Ariba Inc. e-marketplace where carriers and suppliers come together.
"Were using EDI in the traditional sense. In the logistics side, we use it for booking, tendering and tracking of truckloads," said Jim Schlaeffer, director of information exchange at Transplace, in Plano, Texas. "In the Fleet Services area, we use EDI X.12 for obtaining and booking orders through the marketplace and for tracking orders."
Transplace connects to more than 500 partners using EDI.
"In our business, the majority of companies use VANs, so those [have] volume-based pricing—you pay for what you eat on a character basis," Schlaeffer said. "With the Internet model, I dont care if youre FTPing or whatever, youre paying for an ISP connection, and as long as you dont hog that down with other transactions, its pretty [economical]. You dont pay by the byte; you pay by the connection."
The other bonus with AS2 is that it provides a measure of security not found in FTP. "Using the Internet, the next choice [for secure transactions] would have been to go with a [virtual private network]," said Schlaeffer. "The evolutionary track takes us to AS2, which provides an encryption base with guaranteed delivery."
AS2 is expected to be a complete standard by the end of the year.