Tech Industry

Standards group tackles XML documents

An e-business standards body proposes a series of definitions for how corporations should create common business documents.

An e-business standards body has proposed a series of definitions for how corporations should create common business documents.

The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, or OASIS, on Tuesday announced the Universal Business Language (UBL) initiative, intended to promote standardized document formats to ease information exchange between companies.

OASIS is an industry standards group whose members include technology providers and companies using Extensible Markup Language (XML) for business applications.

The draft UBL proposals specify document formats for generic business operations, such as placing an order or sending an invoice.

Formatting data using XML is fast becoming a standard practice among businesses. But many businesses define documents using different formats. The ambitious UBL standards effort would allow computers to "read" and exchange documents automatically without complicated reformatting. OASIS expects that the documents would also be readable by workers in a variety of business functions.

The documents "can be used to implement a generic buy-sell relationship or supply chain (application) whose components fit existing trade agreements and are immediately understandable by workers in business, supply-chain management, Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), accounting, customs, taxation and shipping," according to a statement from OASIS.

The document definitions were drawn primarily from business-to-business experts and OASIS members CommerceOne and SAP as well as the e-business standards work done around ebXML, according to OASIS.

ebXML is a jointly sponsored effort by OASIS and the United Nations to help small- to medium-sized businesses conduct online commerce on the Internet, although it has met with limited adoption.

While the ebXML specification defines a broad set of capabilities for doing secure transactions over the Internet, UBL addresses only document formats. Both ebXML and UBL draw on business-to-business e-commerce applications based on EDI, which is a well-established means of conducting commerce over proprietary networks.

The technical committee in charge of UBL intends to make modifications to the base business document formats published Tuesday for more specific purposes. OASIS also has a series of technical committees considering business document formats for specific industries such as insurance and publishing.

On top of the proposed document formats, the OASIS UBL group has released diagrams based on the unified modeling language (UML), a standard for software development, that give software engineers tools to build applications using XML documents. The document definitions are reusable and royalty-free.

OASIS is one of a handful of organizations that is active in establishing XML formats for exchanging data and processing between companies. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is also involved in establishing Web services standards, and the Web services interoperability organization (WS-I), which calls itself a "standards integration" organization, was formed last year to ensure that the many Web services standards interoperate as expected.