Seeking ebXML Interoperability

By Renee Boucher Ferguson  |  Posted 2002-01-07

Two retail industry trade groups are looking for evidence that the ebXML electronic messaging framework will provide interoperability with global partners and suppliers outside the retail industry.

The Uniform Council Code Inc. and Global Commerce Initiatives ebXML Messaging Interoperability Compliance Pilot is testing the security and reliability mechanisms of electronic business XML, an architecture that provides XML-type messaging across multiple industries.

"Its very important that you know that the document reached the participant and that they received it and, in some cases, received the document only once," said Brian Gibb, director of applied research at Sterling Commerce Inc. and vice chairman of the ebXML Messaging Services technical committee.

One early finding points up the importance of a well-planned security strategy.

"We discovered that we spent a lot more time setting up security parameters than we thought we would," Gibb said.

It took so long because Gibb and his associates had to decide what level of access each supplier got to other suppliers data. It was essential for each participant to know the parties it was interacting with and what they had access to.

"With technologies such as XML and others, the promise that you hear about is that these things are real easy, and with two or three days [of implementation] it will work," Gibb said. "Were finding out that is not the case. Ive got a staff of Ph.D.s that are pretty technically versed, and Ill stand up firmly and say XML doesnt make it easier for businesses to go out and [conduct business over the Internet].

"Security quickly grabs you by the ankle—its more than most big companies can deal with," Gibb said.

The testers were dealing with only five participants. A real-world deployment could have thousands, Gibb said.

"When you add one more player, the issues become exponential," said Gibb, in Dublin, Ohio.

The ebXML pilot is being coordinated by The Drummond Group Inc., a consultancy in Fort Worth, Texas. In addition to Sterling Commerce, a subsidiary of SBC Communications Inc., participants include software vendors bTrade Inc., Cyclone Commerce Inc. and Sybase Inc.

The test is being conducted with vendor-developed applications running ebXML operating behind and across each companys firewalls. Gibb said that by running the test outside of a canned environment, the group can suss out issues that customers will come across in real work situations.

The first phase of the pilot looks at the messaging and security components of ebXML. The results of this phase will be published next month. Phase 2 will be conducted later this year and Phase 3 next year.

"Industries are picking up this [messaging] piece, something a lot of vendors might not be aware of," Gibb said. "The reality of the situation is, if you talk to a lot of Fortune 500 companies, they are not ready to consume all that information, and theyre not going to implement a lot of technical mumbo jumbo just for the sake of it."

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