Tech firms, U.N. develop XML standard

A consortium of tech companies and a United Nations group say they will release a new e-commerce Web standard ahead of schedule, paving the way for a variety of businesses to conduct trades online.

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A consortium of technology companies and a United Nations organization say they will release a new e-commerce Web standard ahead of schedule, paving the way for a variety of businesses to conduct trades online.

Oasis, which includes IBM, Sun Microsystems, BEA Systems and others, has spent the past year working with a U.N. technology group to develop a common way for businesses in various industries to use XML (Extensible Markup Language) to link to one another and conduct trades online.

XML is a popular Web standard for businesses in markets such as finance, manufacturing and publishing to exchange information with each other via the Internet.

Oasis and the U.N. group said Tuesday they will release a uniform model for XML usage in March, two months ahead of schedule. Their effort, called Electronic Business XML or ebXML, defines a common method for businesses to handle and route data to one another and offers a set of guidelines for specific industries to define their XML vocabularies.

XML's popularity is being driven by two overriding trends. The growth in business-to-business e-commerce has required a common language for exchanging information in areas ranging from purchase orders to part descriptions. And in big corporations, the rush to make internal data locked in custom back-end systems available to new Web-based applications has heightened the need for a cross-platform development.

Specific industries, such as insurance and health care providers, are building their own XML vocabularies to describe data. Some industries may have data that's specific to their own areas. The travel industry, for example, must define the data structure for travel, destination, restrictions and pricing models.

Another advantage of ebXML, say proponents, is that it allows companies using an older data-exchange technology, called Electronic Data Interchange, or EDI, to start using more flexible and potentially cheaper XML-based software.

While Oasis and the U.N. want the industries to continue to develop XML vocabularies specific to their markets, the two groups also want to hammer out cross-industry processes for message exchange.

The ebXML effort also includes a portal Web site designed to serve as a library for the XML vocabularies and resource center for businesses that need information to use XML.

Some 13 companies, including Cisco Systems, Fujitsu and NTT, demonstrated Tuesday how companies can use ebXML to link their businesses together to conduct trades online.

Microsoft, whose executives have not ruled out support for ebXML, currently has its own competing set of XML guidelines called BizTalk.