ebXML: An Overview
This article provides a high-level overview of ebXML (electronic business XML), a new standard for doing business electronically. Companies have been doing business electronically for many years, using Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). Large organizations have effectively used EDI to transmit business documents such as purchase orders and shipping notices. Despite its effectiveness, however, EDI has been rather inflexible and esoteric, and has required expensive infrastructure to implement.
With the rise of the Internet, many businesses have sought more modern, flexible, and less-expensive ways of doing business electronically. Many have turned to XML as the technology of choice for business-to-business electronic commerce. XML is very useful, but the technology of XML alone does not address the challenges of a complex business-to-business scenario. These challenges include the following:
Finding standard document structures that you can reuse but also adapt to your needs.
Describing your Business Processes in a way that is easily comprehended by your trading partners. This includes not just the document structures (which can be expressed by a DTD or schema), but also the process flowwhich documents are exchanged, with which partners, and in what order.
Ensuring that your XML messages are routed appropriately and acknowledged, and that the necessary security and appropriate technical protocols are used.
Finding trading partners whose technical requirements are compatible with yours.
ebXML attempts to answer these challenges. Work on ebXML began in 1999 by a group jointly sponsored by OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) and UN/CEFACT (United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business). Hundreds of organizations were involved, including most major software vendors, businesses in a variety of industries, educational institutions, and governmental agencies. The first set of ebXML specifications was released in May of this year.
The ebXML specifications provide a framework for electronic commerce. The broad-reaching ebXML architecture covers the definition of Business Processes, the technical profiles of trading partners, the mutual agreements between trading partners, a reliable messaging architecture, and a central Registry to manage all of this information. Underneath the architecture is XML, which is used not only for the exchange of business documents themselves, but also for the definition of the Business Processes.
ebXML itself is not a specific process or data model for doing business. There is no specific sequence of events defined by the ebXML specification that represent the purchase of good or services. Nor is there a specific XML representation of an ebXML purchase order. Rather, ebXML provides the framework for defining these Business Processes and documents. Individual organizations can define business models using the ebXML guidelines, then publish or share them with other organizations via a Registry of Business Processes.