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Bringing business standards and process to XML
by Muhammad Sajjad
Every day we hear of businesses announcing partnerships with each other in order to provide more dynamic applications. As the number of these applications increase, electronic businesses are faced with the fundamental problems of making sure that their applications are not only dynamic but maintain a high degree of inter-operability between their applications and the businesses with which they collaborate.
By cataloging common business process and workflows, ebXML establishes common message sequences that can be develop across industry boundaries to foster global trade.
ebXML is a global electronic business standard that is sponsored by UN/CEFACT (United Nations Center For Trade Facilitation And Electronic Business) and OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structural Information Standards). ebXML thus defines a framework for global electronic business that will allow businesses to find each other and conduct business based on well-defined XML messages within the context of standard business processes which are governed by standard or mutually-negotiated partner agreement. The ebXML standard addresses each of the above points, as we shall see in the next section. The ebXML initiative is an attempt, in the words of the specification, “to create a single electronic global market.”
EBXML to attempt do the following.
· Make electronic business simple and easy, while keeping costs to a minimum.
· Offer users a clear migration path from current EDI standards , as well as from disparate XML vocabularies .
· Suppose multiple written languages and accommodate standards for rules of national and international trade.
ebXML allows companies with no history of previous contact to establish a formal relationship across the web and begins exchanging business data and documents in an automated fashion. Ebxml enables computer-to-computer interaction to occur by standardizing the semantics of the documents exchanged among business partners and by defining the business processes that make use of the data exchanged. New business partners can quickly define business processes and documents such as orders, receipts, delivery schedules, and invoices.
How ebXML Works
ebXML is really five different specifications that define the following:
A business process is a set of individual messages exchanged among trading partners. Standardized business processes offer ways to capture the flow of business data among trading partners and represent that data as business knowledge in a standard format.
ebXML uses unified modeling language (UML) to model and define business processes from the top down. Once defined, business processes can be broken down into components, which in turn can be treated as objects. In this way, e-business data exchanges can be handled in an object-oriented manner. Objects—self-contained units of data and functions to manipulate the data—lend themselves to business process modeling.
An earlier, similar endeavor was initiated by Rosetta Net, which combines an XML vocabulary with business process analysis to produce a common language for supply-chain integration.
In some sense, specialized XML-based vocabularies have fallen victim to their own success. One aim of ebXML is to reduce the spread of incompatible business vocabularies and create a common, interoperable base that trading partners can build on to exchange documents and conduct business in a uniform manner.
Core components provide interoperability among trading partners by identifying common data elements used among industries and assigning them normalized names and identifiers. In essence, core components comprise a standardized data dictionary for inter-industry trade.
ebXML encourages the creation and description of core components by various industry players. Core components are part of the technical architecture of ebXML and can be used with rules for classifying business concepts and interactions in order to uniformly represent business processes.
Trading Partner Agreements.
Trading Partner Agreements (TPAs) represent a company's capacity to conduct e-business. TPAs codify the rules and responsibilities governing the relationships among trading partners. TPAs also include boilerplate industry content, and effectively spell out the business processes that constitute electronic transactions on the Web.
ebXML provides two different TPA mechanisms: Collaboration Protocol Profiles (CPPs) and Collaboration Protocol Agreements (CPAs).
CPPs list the business processes and message exchange technologies that a company supports. Once two companies have spelled out their respective CPPs, they can then work out a formal relationship with each other using a CPA.
CPAs are XML documents that represent the technical aspects of a business relationship. CPAs, in effect, define the rules of engagement agreed on between companies with well-defined CPPs. Companies use the business process definitions laid out in CPAs to configure their systems when exchanging messages.
Registries and Repositories.
Registries contain the industrial processes, messages, and data elements used in transactions among trading partners. Companies use registries to register the CPPs that represent their trading capabilities and to search for companies that match or complement those capabilities. Registries index these capabilities in repositories, which may be queried. Trading partners are thus provided with a clearinghouse for each other's services.
ebXML registries are compatible with the same Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI) registries that support Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). In fact, UDDI registries can be used to discover services that may ultimately point to ebXML services contained in ebXML repositories.
Common message formats enable ebXML-compliant companies to send and receive business data in predefined formats, which are standardized SOAP envelopes. ebXML leverages SOAP to provide interoperable message handling and has adopted SOAP with attachments for adding binary attachments to the basic SOAP message.
SOAP doesn't dictate the content or meaning of messages and bodies. It makes no claims about what goes in the envelope. ebXML, on the other hand, explicitly defines how addressing and messaging are specified in the SOAP message. In terms of message formats, ebXML is a well-defined extension of SOAP, providing the security, reliability, and business process context that SOAP lacks. Moreover, since ebXML uses SOAP as its message format, almost any means of internet transport, such as the Web or e-mail, can carry ebXML messages.
A key point to keep in mind when considering ebXML is that the various components can be used independently of one another. The entire stack need not be implemented to gain some benefit. This is a point sometimes lost on the casual observer: ebXML is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Developers can pick and choose among the ebXML specifications according to their application needs.
It's important to note, in other words, the loosely coupled nature of the ebXML specifications, just as it's important to note the complementary nature of ebXML with other technologies such as SOAP. Because the components are open, independent, and complementary, they are easily mixed and matched.
Companies planning to engage in ebXML-based trade typically proceed in the following manner:
ebXML is a top-down technology, built to handle global e-commerce requirements. It is complex, it employs business process definitions and global registries of potential business partners, and it implements a robust messaging specification with a good security model. And ebXML is not proprietary; it supports the Web services standards SOAP, UDDI, and Web Services Description Language (WSDL).
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