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Commentary: Microsoft, IBM, Ariba to create major advance in B2B

The companies are proposing to develop formats, protocols and conventions necessary to maintain an online database that will help to bring companies to the Net.

IBM, Microsoft and Ariba will propose a set of XML-based interface and procedure standards necessary to maintain an online database that will enable companies to divulge and discover the online business standards required to streamline commerce and procedure to bring companies to the Net.

Although the directory will contain some human-readable information, it will primarily support the system-to-system (S2S) domain.

See news story:
IBM, Microsoft, Ariba team on e-commerce standard

XML provides a vehicle for creating S2S interfaces for Internet-based communication. As such, it has been called the next generation of electronic data interchange (EDI).

However, like EDI it is language-oriented. Companies and industries need to develop the consistent interface formats necessary to conduct actual S2S, market-style transactions. Each industry, product type, market and customer type has unique needs that must be accommodated.

The major challenge for trading partners has always been to establish and publish those interfaces. This new proposal the Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) standard, is designed to provide a way for a company's computers to consistently publish and subscribe to information pertinent to participation in business-to-business e-commerce and Net market systems.

Commerce systems of actual and potential business partners can search, discover and download the basic UDDI constructs automatically, dramatically reducing programming complexity. This provides those business partners with the information they need to conduct basic transactions, such as submitting bids and sending invoices S2S.

One of the most important aspects of this project is that these companies intend their approach to become a published standard.

While competitors to UDDI may appear, and more than one may ultimately be used, no one will be able to establish a proprietary solution that allows one company to own this important part of e-commerce.

The combination of Microsoft and IBM, the two largest companies in the computer industry, with Ariba, which has taken a leadership role in business-to-business commerce on the Web, makes this a powerful move in the industry and guarantees that proprietary solutions will fail.

The big question raised by this announcement is whether IBM and Microsoft can work effectively together to actually make this initiative successful. They have not always worked well together in the past.

In this case, however, they have powerful reasons to combine their strengths, including their desire to assure the marketplace that this will be an open standard.

With both as equal partners, users can be assured that neither company has a hidden agenda.

The UDDI initiative also promises to help reduce costs for business-to-business e-commerce technology to a reasonable level. EDI and XML have always been very expensive to implement. Companies have had to buy millions of dollars in software and spend large amounts of staff time on the detailed technical problems of creating their interfaces.

UDDI does not appear to define a comprehensive set of interfaces that businesses must use. Instead, it allows businesses to publish any specific industry or partnership interfaces they wish. Interfaces at different levels of abstraction can evolve as business conditions require.

META Group believes that if IBM, Microsoft and Ariba can bring UDDI forward quickly and actually launch the Web site based on it soon, users can accept UDDI as a baseline standard and focus their attention on developing the business rules they want and the interfaces based on those rules for machine-to-machine transactions along the supply chain.

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