Electronic business XML (ebXML, pronounced eee-bee-XML) is probably the most talked about and least understood of technologies in the Web services universe. In this chapter, we present the concepts and architecture to give the reader a basic level of understanding about ebXML. We also talk about the relevance to other technologies in the WUST (WSDL-UDDI-SOAP Technologies) stack and why readers should pay close attention to the way it is transforming business-to-business communication.
To understand the relevance of ebXML, we need to revisit Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), which we briefly on touched in Chapter 4. At its fundamental level, every business is part of a supply chain that forms a link between suppliers and customers. EDI was born in the late sixties out of the need to represent this interaction electronically as structured data. In the seventies, the Transportation Data Coordinating Committee (TDCC) developed the initial transaction sets for transportation verticals (airlines, shipping corporations, etc.) and was primarily responsible for the rapid adoption of EDI interactions instead of paper exchanges. This worked well, because organizations could exchange information faster using the virtual private networks set up between participants of the supply chain.
Before the Internet became a household reality, e-commerce and EDI were considered the same thing. The business and technical problems with EDI and the reason for its demise were as simple as the reasons for its adoption. Though demise may seem an inappropriate term, considering that many large networks, such as airlines and customs, still use EDI, it is true-otherwise, you probably wouldn't be reading this book. These reasons are
Only large corporations could realize the benefits of EDI, as a result of the high costs. These were primarily due to the proprietary software that implemented handling of the EDI transaction sets, the hardware required to set up the private networks, and the cost in implementing such a technically elaborate solution.
The technology became fragmented, with EDI products implementing proprietary extensions.
EDI focused on automating information flow. For example, most EDI transaction sets landed on a printer, where EDI specialists used that information to work with the existing business process.
Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) originated at IBM and became an ISO standard in 1986. The advent of its subsets, XML and HTML, changed everything. Data could be represented in a self-describing and platform-independent format. The business requirements EDI proposed to solve, along with the technical capabilities of XML, gave rise to ebXML. Early in 1999, members of the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) joined forces with the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards(OASIS) to produce a global XML framework for e-business. Many companies participated in the initiative and, in May 2001, agreed on the first generation of ebXML specifications.