The Big Hype for the New Year: ebXML

A new year and already the hype has started over some arbitrary technology that's supposed to change the world.

A new year and already the hype has started over some arbitrary technology thats supposed to change the world. Its got to stop. Hype is a bad, bad thing, and yet I get a strange sense of belonging when I write about whatevers being hyped.

This year, apparently, its ebXML, a series of specifications that allow global businesses to talk to one another electronically via XML, which was the hype champion of 2000. Lets get it straight, though. Computer systems involve work. Its tough just to set up one PC. Imagine setting up a B2B exchange that involves hundreds or thousands of systems, belonging to people who barely talk to one another, at companies that are often competitors.

However, one facet of ebXML has some legs this year: electronic payment and invoicing systems. A couple of years ago, there were predictions that somehow companies would bypass banks by setting up their own bill payment and presentment systems. The banks, of course, had other plans.

Bill payment and presentment was only a tiny part of the bigger story—automated invoicing is the Holy Grail in a B2B exchange.

While its enormously more complicated to set up a B2B invoicing system than it is to cut a few bills and then enter the checks later by hand, its also more worthwhile. Things like accountability, payment efficiencies and improvements to the supply chain are all benefits of setting up an automated payment and invoicing system.

The theory behind ebXML, as far as a payment and invoicing system goes, is beautiful. In practice, its downright ugly. Setting up an automated payment and invoicing system could involve ghastly business process re-engineering (hyped in 1990). Theres also much room for improvement in automated dispute handling and collaboration. This means its likely that payment and invoicing systems will be put off a full year.

Take Covisint, for example. This organization, set up by the Big Three U.S. automotive companies, has done at least as much to push ebXML as any other organization. But its holding off on setting up automated payment and invoice systems. The reason: Its priority is simply to get the relationships in order first. And thats the truth with everyone.

What are you hyped about this year? Write to me at [email protected].