Another step closer to B2B

Talking about business forms and purchase orders isn't all that sexy, Jon Bosak admits, but establishing standard schemas for the electronic versions of such documents is a critical business issue. ''The global interoperability of business processes simply cannot occur without the semantic standardization of the messages exchanged in business transactions,'' Bosak told eADT.

And he ought to know. Bosak, who championed the development of XML 1.0 through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), has been spearheading efforts to develop a royalty-free data representation standard for electronic commerce, currently undertaken by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS).

Last week, the OASIS Universal Business Language (UBL) Technical Committee announced that it was releasing the first draft of the UBL schema.

The purpose of UBL is to unify the various business ''dialects'' of XML currently used in electronic commerce. Its backers hope that it will become an international standard for electronic trade.

The UBL schemas contained in the review package specify machine-readable XML representations of seven basic business forms, including Order, Order Response, Simple Order Response, Order Cancellation, Dispatch Advice, Receipt Advice and Invoice. Together, they can be used to implement a generic buy/sell relationship or supply chain whose components fit existing trade agreements and are immediately understandable by workers in business, supply-chain management (SCM), Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), accounting, customs, taxation and shipping.

According to OASIS, these generic schemas are intended to work in a wide variety of business contexts through custom extensions. Automated context configuration will be addressed in a later phase of the effort, the standards body says. The schemas are also designed to be used in their generic form in many ordinary business contexts without further modification.

The business context in which the generic document types are designed to function is detailed on the OASIS Web site ( Visitors to the site will also find the entire semantic model on which the schemas are based, a description of the methodology by which the schemas were created, and UML diagrams to aid in software design. The package also contains alternative ASN.1 specifications for the UBL schemas that allow ASN.1 tools to be used for UBL document transfers. Additional supplementary materials will be made available in a following package update to be announced separately.

According to the technical committee, the UBL schemas reflect a number of inputs, the most important of which are the commercial xCBL schemas from Commerce One and SAP; the ebXML Core Components Specification; early XSL stylesheet implementations; and early feedback from the UBL Liaisons. UBL schema design follows the UBL Naming and Design Rules (NDR) developed by the UBL NDR Subcommittee. The definition of UBL semantic content, based on existing practice in EDI and electronic marketplaces, has taken place in close alignment with ebXML Core Components methodology to ensure optimal integration into the ebXML semantic registry.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].