Most mature industries have a set of standard practices upon which every company builds its business.
A group of technology and manufacturing companies calling itself the Business Internet Consortium is trying to create such standards for the architecture of business-to-business e-commerce. BIC hopes the standards it creates will be used by companies as they implement or develop road maps for B2B systems.
BIC, which was formed a year ago by such companies as Intel Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., SAP AG, Ford Motor Co. and Pennzoil-Quaker State Co., looks to do one better than current B2B standards.
Although certain industries are making headway in developing vertically oriented standards—for example, the electronics industry, with RosettaNet, and the chemical industry, with Chemical Industry Data Exchange, or CIDX—an overriding standard for interoperability remains elusive.
Whats needed, according to BICs XML Convergence Workgroup, is an architecture for B2B integration that crosses all industries.
Companies, for their part, are eager for integration architecture to be adopted.
Eric Greenfeder, manager of research and development and technology at BASF Corp., in Mount Olive, N.J., said its difficult to integrate within a specific industry using a defined transaction standard.
"When you look at going cross-standards, it gets even more hairy," said Greenfeder. "It would be nice if everyone were to have, if not a standard, then a similar document flow. It would make things a lot easier, and the opportunity for integration would be a lot better."
Last October, BIC published its High-Level Conceptual Model for B2B Integration, essentially a guideline for a B2B concept and technology stack.
The guideline comprises a technical conceptual model that sits on top of a business conceptual model. The business model defines such things as data format, structure, definitions and choreography. The technical component tackles protocols and tools.
The guideline provides a framework for collecting customer requirements and analyzing B2B implementations. The requirements and architectural gaps found can then be fed to B2B standards bodies to improve future B2B standards definitions.
Next week, the XML Convergence Workgroup expects to begin meeting with the prevailing standards bodies—the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, or OASIS; the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business, or UN/CEFACT; and the World Wide Web Consortium—to try to gain their cooperation.
"We want to affect the standards organizations and try to develop some sort of migration path [from our model to their standards]," said Steve Agritelley, manager of Intels Distributed Systems Lab, in Santa Clara, Calif. "Well try to develop some sort of path over the next 18 to 24 months. Weve finished Phase 1 with development of the model. Now the fun starts. The challenge now is to get this vision to the standards bodies."
The goal for BIC is to influence standards for Web services—Phase 2 of its charter.
BIC is not alone in its effort to develop an architecture for B2B integration and Web services.
The two groups that developed the ebXML (electronic business XML) framework, OASIS and UN/CEFACT, also are working on an overall architecture for e-commerce.
They are using ebXML as the basis for their model and expanding that for all e-commerce, which also includes business-to-consumer e-commerce standards.
The next phase of their efforts will be to embrace legacy applications and describe how Web services fit in. Both groups hope to have that effort complete by the end of the year, according to Claus Noujok, head of the UN/CEFACT group and chief technology scientist at Iona Software Corp.
At the same time, the W3C, which developed the XML 1.0 standard, is starting a Web Services Committee to tackle similar challenges for creating an architecture encompassing Web services. The W3C has agreed to work with OASIS and UN/CEFACT in the effort.
Mark Hale, director of content technologies at Interwoven Inc., believes it will be a couple of years until businesses can even think about having all the pieces of an architecture.
"I always recommend that businesses solve their current problems first," said Hale, in Sunnyvale, Calif.
As for BASFs Greenfeder, hes happy to see some work being done to pull standards together. "Anyone who can break the inertia and get the momentum going across industry standards has my applause," he said.