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IBM pushes XML adoption with new spec

IBM has built an XML specification that details a common way for companies to define and execute business contracts over the Web.

IBM is developing a new Extensible Markup Language-based technology that it hopes will speed adoption of the popular Web standard for exchanging information.

Extensible Markup Language, or XML, is a Web standard that proponents claim allows companies to easily and cheaply conduct online transactions with their customers and partners. It also delivers sound, video and other data across the Web.

IBM has built an XML specification that details a common way for companies to define and execute business contracts over the Web. Big Blue today submitted the specification--called the Trading Partner Agreement Markup Language--to a nonprofit XML consortium called Oasis, which is trying to create a uniform way for businesses to use XML.

Although IBM's new technology is important, analysts say IBM has assembled just a small piece of the puzzle. The technology industry needs to develop more standards before the use of XML becomes commonplace. "It's important because it highlights an area where a great deal of work will have to be done if we are to achieve the benefits of automated business-to-business commerce," Giga Information Group analyst Phil Costa said.

IBM's new specification gives companies all the pieces they need to create an electronic contract to do business with each other, said Marie Wieck, IBM's XML technology director. For example, it will allow companies to choose the type of information they want to send, whether it's a purchase order or an invoice, and how they want to send it, such as through email or a Web site.

"It's a generic way to enable all the things you need in a contract," Wieck said.

IBM is hoping Oasis will make the specification a standard. Oasis--which has more than 50 members, including Microsoft, Oracle, and Sun Microsystems--is attempting to create a set of guidelines for businesses to use XML to send data to each other.

Representatives from Oasis could not be reached for comment.

Giga Information Group analyst Phil Costa said the specification will save companies time as they increasingly use XML to conduct business online.

"Most companies have worked out trading agreements manually and implemented them in (software) code. That increases implementation time and makes it difficult to change agreements," Costa said. "(This) will allow companies to add and modify agreements much more quickly, ultimately making the business more agile."

IBM's Wieck said the new specification will work with other XML standard efforts already underway, she said. For example, specific industries, such as health care and banking, are defining their own vocabulary for data, such as price and product. IBM's new specification will allow businesses to choose the XML vocabulary they want to use, she said.

Wieck also said the specification will work with the XML guidelines that Oasis is trying to develop. The nonprofit group hopes to develop its set of guidelines, called Electronic Business XML (EBXML) by late 2000 or early 2001. Microsoft has already released its own set of XML guidelines, called the BizTalk framework.