Push for UBL Protocol Gathers Momentum

Oasis set to release first components of Universal Business Language spec.

The goal of a universal language for business messaging will move closer to reality this month when key elements of a proposed standard are released.

The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards will release the first schemas for UBL (Universal Business Language), which seeks to standardize XML versions of purchase order, invoice, shipping notice and other business forms.

Jon Bosak, a distinguished engineer at Sun Microsystems Inc. and the lead editor of the original XML specification, has been the force behind UBL. Bosak came up with the idea for a universal business language that draws from existing e-commerce dialects and builds on work started with ebXML (electronic business XML). Bosak also marshaled a UBL grass-roots initiative into an OASIS technical committee.

The roster of UBL documents to be released include Order, Order Response, Simple Order Response, Order Cancellation, Despatch Advice (shipping notice), Receipt Advice and Invoice.

Bosak, based in Santa Clara, Calif., said these seven documents represent only about 5 percent of the documents used in e-commerce but handle up to 80 percent of the worlds supply chain commerce. Bosak said UBL has a source library of about 500 reusable elements.

UBL brings the best of electronic data interchange to the Web—a feat that many have attempted to accomplish, Bosak said. It does this by establishing a standard XML language for business messages that spans industries and supports a standard protocol for business-quality messaging. According to Bosak, UBL and ebXML could do for business-to- business e-commerce what HTML and HTTP did for hypertext publishing.

IBM has looked at UBL and may offer support at a later time, said Bob Sutor, director of Web services technology for IBMs WebSphere software division, in Somers, N.Y. Sutor said he believes the effort requires the support of a large user organization or large industry—such as the government—to succeed.

"I have looked at UBL and want to use it in the XML Web services work I lead," said Brand Niemann, computer scientist and XML and Web services specialist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in Washington.

Niemann also chairs the federal government CIO Councils XML Web Services Working Group and said he knows of other government pilots that address UBL.

UBL could become part of Federal Enterprise Architecture, which is a business-based framework for governmentwide improvement and interoperability under development at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, according to Niemann.

Schemas on tap

  • Order
  • Order Response
  • Simple Order Response
  • Order Cancellation
  • Despatch Advice (shipping notice)
  • Receipt Advice
  • Invoice
The Navy is interested in UBL and has placed a representative on the OASIS UBL technical committee, said Michael Jacobs, data architecture project lead in the Department of the Navy, or DON, Chief Information Office.

"A large part of the DON XML Implementation Strategy is to make use of XML Vocabularies, which are developed by the international industry consortiums such as OASIS and their UBL technical committee," said Jacobs, in Alexandria, Va. "Personally, I believe that UBL holds the promise of making the ebXML Core Components a reality for XML implementations."

Bosak said what the UBL group comes up with this month will be "stuff people can begin writing prototypes around." Final versions of the schemas will be available by this summer, he said.