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ebXML is an ambitious initiative begun originally by OASIS and UN/CEFACT (the Center for the Facilitation of Procedures and Practices in Administration, Commerce, and Transport). The basic idea behind ebXML was to provide a global framework for B2B data exchange that leveraged XML technology and the Web. At the time of ebXML's inception, the only technology available to help companies engage in B2B exchange was Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). EDI was useful and made significant contributions to productivity and inventory control across many industries. But many companies, especially smaller players, found EDI expensive and difficult to implement.

United Nations involvement was related to the desire to give companies from developing countries an opportunity to participate in the growing world of global e-commerce. EDI was too expensive to implement, but by leveraging XML and the Web, ebXML was seen as a way to provide a standard method for exchanging business messages, conducting trading relationships, communicating data in common terms, and defining and registering business processes. Industry groups were quick to adopt ebXML. Backers included the Automotive Industry Action Group, Health Level Seven, the Open Travel Alliance and the North American EDI standards bodies.

From a comprehensive business perspective, ebXML zeros in on the essentials for doing business within specific industry areas by defining industry business processes, messages, and common data formats that companies can use to jump-start their own electronic commerce initiatives. For the travel industry, the health care industry, or any one of hundreds of industry groups, ebXML delivers a close-to-complete package for doing industry-specific e-business. If a company wants to enter a market, it can look in an ebXML registry to access the data objects and process models needed for partnering, and use the same registry to find new suppliers or customers. In a nutshell, ebXML not only allows companies to find each other, but also defines processes and XML-based data descriptions that companies can use to do business with each other right out of the starting block.

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