What Is the Potential BizTalk Role in E-Marketplaces?
What is the potential role of BizTalk—considered as both an interoperability framework and a Microsoft server product—in the world of electronic marketplaces?
This question demands a multipart answer. The first part of the answer is that BizTalk—the framework—is broadly applicable to all e-marketplaces because it defines a message envelope that does not presume a particular type of business document, catalog, or workflow. Because BizTalk is a horizontal-market, B2B interoperability specification, in principle, it can be applied to any "marketecture."
The second part of the answer is that BizTalk—the server—could allow trading partners (TPs) to integrate their commerce sites with their internal applications, with the marketplace hub, and (via the hub) with trade facilitators and with each other. Consequently, BizTalk Servers could be the common distributed platform that binds all participants into a common hubbed (or, indeed, non-hubbed) trading environment. Integration would be through exchange of BizTag-enclosed Business Documents over message-brokering backbones between loosely coupled applications. The potential roles of BizTalk Server in a hubbed e-marketplace include supporting the integration of applications within each company and between separate companies through a trading hub.
The third part of the answer addresses those situations in which the BizTalk framework and server may not be a good fit for an e-marketplace's requirements.
Microsoft designed the BizTalk Server primarily as a "front end" for some TPs' commerce sites and applications—especially those built with Microsoft's Commerce Server, SQL Server, Windows 2000, and other Microsoft Server products. The company appears to be positioning BizTalk Server as a platform for TP integration into a hubbed e-marketplace or traditional EDI supply-chain scenario. Consequently, BizTalk Server's feature set consists of core EDI functionality: reliable document interchange, mapping, translation, and routing. This feature set does not address the core e-commerce requirements of marketmakers, who must support complex relationships, transaction models, and workflows among buyers, sellers, and other marketplace participants.
Other BizTalk Server limitations are the implementation-specific features that constrain it to interoperating primarily with other BizTalk Servers within Windows 2000 environments. As a result, the BizTalk Framework might not be applicable to trading environments in which marketmakers and trading partners deploy competing operating systems, such as AS/400, AIX, Solaris, and Linux. If third parties were to develop BizTalk servers for other operating systems, BizTalk would then be able to play in truly multivendor trading environments.
Yet another reason why marketmakers might favor another framework is functional specialization. In some cases, however, marketmakers may find competing frameworks to be better suited to the type of transactions they plan to broker within their hubsites. For example, e-marketplaces that directly integrate trading partners' enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications may find the Open Appication Group Interoperability Specification (OAGIS) a better choice because these specifications are geared to interfacing the data and process models of multiple vendors' ERP applications.
James Kobielus has more than 15 years experience as an analyst in the distributed computing and telecommunications industry. He is a recognized authority on strategic telecommunications and information systems topics, and is an occasional speaker at network-computing industry conferences. He is a contributing editor for Network World, and writes its popular column "Above the Cloud." He is the author of more than 150 columns, books, feature articles, and buyers' guides, including Measuring Business Value of Information Technologies (International Center for Information, 1987, ISBN 0-9450-9802-2) and Workflow Strategies (IDG, 1997, ISBN 0-7645-3012-7). His latest book is BizTalk: Implementing Business-to-Business E-Commerce (Prentice Hall PTR, 2000, ISBN 0-13-089159-2).