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UBL and XBDL Positionings

The activities of the OASIS Universal Business Language (UBL) technical committee and those of the UN/CEFACT XML Business Document Library (XBDL) Project are designed (in part) to continue development work on ebXML-related specifications subsequent to the May 2001 approval of the core set of electronic business data specifications. Comments by some of the principals involved in the UBL and XBDL projects may be useful in understanding how the groups perceive their efforts to be related (as of about 2001-10-03).

Useful references:


Date:      Mon, 01 Oct 2001 14:45:22 -0700 (PDT)
From:      Jon Bosak <Jon.Bosak@Sun.COM>
Subject:   Re: XML Business Document Library Project Team

I spent all last week thinking about how to respond to the message of 21 September announcing the formation of the XML Business Document Library (XBDL) Project in the eBTWG. My preference would be to say nothing. Unfortunately, that message, sent to the eBWTG, ebXML, and ebXML-dev discussion lists, contains some misstatements of fact that are too important to let pass without a reply.

First we have the following:

| The eBTWG Executive does understand that the XBDL Project is in
| concept identical to the recently approved work of the OASIS UBL
| TC. After consultation with the CSG we agreed to proceed with the
| approval of our project. The reason is very simple, this work is
| not related to ebXML infrastructure work, but related to ebXML
| content and context work which is the agreed responsibility of

The characterization of UBL as "the agreed responsibility of UN/CEFACT" is false. The stated aims of UBL are as follows:

  1. To avert a crisis in electronic business caused by competing XML business-to-business document standards by choosing as a starting point an existing XML business document library as the basis for creating a new "Universal Business Language" that will be a synthesis of existing XML business document libraries.

  2. To begin with xCBL 3.0 as the starting point and to develop the standard UBL library by mutually agreed-upon changes to xCBL 3.0 based on industry experience with other XML business libraries and with similar technologies such as Electronic Data Interchange.

  3. To develop UBL in light of standards/specifications issued by UN/CEFACT, ISO, IEC, ITU, W3C, IETF, OASIS, and such other standards bodies and organizations as the UBL TC may deem relevant.

  4. To harmonize UBL as far as practical with the ebXML specifications approved in Vienna (May 2001), with the work of the Joint Core Components initiative (a joint project of ANSI ASC X12 and the UN/EDIFACT Working Group), and with the work of other appropriate business information bodies.

  5. Ultimately, to promote UBL to the status of an international standard for the conduct of XML-based electronic business.

This program of work does not belong at all to the part of ebXML assigned to UN/CEFACT. It does, however, fall squarely within the charter of OASIS, a nonprofit consortium that has been devoted to the advancement of structured information standards since 1993 -- years before ebXML was even an idea. The development of industrial standards for tag languages has been part of OASIS from the beginning, and the OASIS TC process is specifically designed for the creation of XML languages. OASIS did not agree to abandon its raison d'etre when it cooperated with UN/CEFACT in the ebXML initiative, and it did not agree to abandon it in Vienna. Assertions that OASIS agreed to cede the development of XML syntaxes to UN/CEFACT are simply untrue. This was not the intent of the representatives of OASIS in Vienna, and is not supported by the Joint Memorandum of Understanding signed in Vienna.

Another part of the message of 21 September that needs correction is its statement that "the approved XBDL Project has been part of the UN/CEFACT work plan as it relates to the approved UN/CEFACT eBusiness vision, it is not a totally new item."

The fact is that the development of XML syntax for business messages was formally ruled out of scope for ebXML at the May 2000 meeting in Brussels. It was as a result of that decision by the ebXML Steering Committee that I started trying to organize an OASIS effort to develop XML syntax -- as the CEFACT leadership knows, since they were among the first people I approached with the idea and the first to reject it.

It's no secret that the people trying to develop UBL would have preferred to do the work in UN/CEFACT. At their meeting in April 2001, the members of the UBL Organizing Committee resolved as follows:

  • That the Organizing Committee is chartered to prepare and propose the formal establishment of a new T-level XML Syntax Subworking Group of the EDIFACT Working Group, subject to the following conditions:

    • xCBL 3.x is the starting point
    • The SWG's Terms of Reference are similar to the OASIS technical committee process
    • The work is governed by an intellectual property policy that vests ownership of the proposed work in the U.N. and ensures royalty-free licensing
    • The membership policy allows the members of the Organizing Committee and other experts to join the new SWG as voting members

  • That if the effort to establish a new SWG in EWG fails, the Organizing Committee is chartered to prepare and propose the establishment of a CBL Technical Committee in OASIS.

If the EWG XML Syntax group proposed in this resolution had been allowed to form, it would have given the UBL effort a home in CEFACT. But the CEFACT Steering Group (CSG) discouraged the formation of a subworking group that would have been governed by the EWG membership on the grounds that the EWG was about to go out of existence. Denied the creation of an appropriate subworking group in the EWG, the UBL Organizing Committee fell back to the alternative it had resolved upon earlier and proceeded with the formation of the OASIS UBL Technical Committee.

Everyone should clearly understand that there is a basic difference of philosophy between the CSG/eBTWG leadership and the people involved in the UBL effort.

The CSG/eBTWG leadership are recognised advocates of top-down design methodologies. Anyone who doubts this needs only look at the committee structure they originally proposed for the eBWG and the committee structure that is now proposed for the eBTWG. The technical program of the eBTWG is organized around concepts inherited (inappropriately, in the opinion of many) from object-oriented programming.

The CSG's goals were summed up in a document titled "UN/CEFACT's Expectation for ebXML's Deliverables" that was prepared by members of the CSG for the ebXML Executive early in the course of the ebXML project. The core of the CSG position with regard to the design of XML business schemas is stated in that document as follows:

  • In addition [to identifying and defining standard "core components"] the CC team was to create the transformation rules that would automatically create, from a UML class diagram, (stored in XML in the repository) the XML information parcels. These would become the base business objects for any ebXML compliant business and information model in order to achieve interoperability at the data level.

  • In addition to UN/CEFACT many leading international industry groups have followed UN/CEFACT's direction. In addition to GCI, SWIFT, RosettaNet, TM-Forum, and EWG (UN/EDIFACT) all have made public statements about their use of UML for business process and information modelling. All use business objects and transformation rules to generate automatically the XML payloads from those models.

Unlike the proposed CSG/eBTWG methodology, UBL takes an approach more in keeping with modern software development. It asks, What already works? What do we already know about business? How can we easily realize what we need? How can we model what people really do rather than what object-oriented programmers think they do? And then it sets about implementing the already existing business knowledge in the fastest and surest way possible -- by taking an existing set of XML business grammars and evolving it into a standard, aligning it with the ongoing semantic definition work in UN/CEFACT, and modifying it as necessary to include the best parts of other existing XML libraries and incorporate the hard-won practical business experience gained in 20 years of electronic data interchange.

Thus, while the UBL project is intended to develop a standard set of XML business schemas from the bottom up, based on existing practice, the CSG/eBTWG approach is a top-down effort intended to develop a standard set of formal business models from which XML schemas can automatically be generated. In the CSG/eBTWG vision, XML schemas are just one of an unlimited number of syntaxes that could automatically be generated to instantiate "business objects." In the UBL vision, XML schemas occupy center stage, and their creation is the collaborative work of XML experts and business experts.

To those of us trying to develop UBL as a practical near-term solution to the XML business document interchangeability problem, these appear to be different strategies and goals.

The CSG/eBTWG leadership did not like the UBL idea in May 2000, and, despite their blessing of the new XBDL Project Team, I am convinced that they don't like it now.

In advance of the UBL Group meeting 13-14 August in Montreal, I was told that if the UBL Group did not agree to put its work under control of the eBTWG, a project team would be started in eBTWG to compete with it. The XBDL announcement delivers on that promise.

Unlike the UBL TC, however, the XBDL project team will have to engage in a serious examination, both technical and legal, of the already existing commercial XML libraries and all the other logical alternatives before it can begin to define a syntax (UBL begins by assuming xCBL as the starting point, in no small part because it is already widely deployed and legally unencumbered). It's hard to see how this prerequisite analysis can properly be carried out without materially slowing the XBDL effort.

For those of us interested in developing a practical near-term solution to the XML business document interchangeability problem, it's time to get down to work. If you share this goal, I invite you to join us at:

If you are not an employee of an OASIS member organization, you will have to buy an individual OASIS membership to participate. The annual dues of USD 250 per year compare favorably with the cost of participation in other organizations that charge meeting fees, and joining OASIS will entitle you to participate in a number of other important industry XML initiatives as well.

I sympathize with everyone who wanted to see the UBL work take place within UN/CEFACT; I wanted that, too, and for several months this summer tried hard to make it happen. I am greatly encouraged that we may eventually achieve this goal by the "EWG Proposal for the Future Structure and Organization for e-Business Standardization within UN/CEFACT" that was approved by the EDIFACT Working Group at their recent meeting in Rotterdam. Unlike the structure originally proposed by the CSG and still embodied in the eBTWG, this new initiative by the EWG membership is far better suited to the work we're attempting in UBL.

As I have recently said in the UBL Group:

The EDIFACT Working Group embodies two decades of hard work by some of the world's leading experts in electronic data interchange. UBL needs to be tied into that expertise so that it can be realized anew in syntax appropriate to the world of web services. It needs to be integrated into the assessment, harmonization, and approval processes that the EWG has struggled so hard to implement. It seems to me that the proposal approved by the EWG membership offers our best hope for accomplishing this integration.

I urge everyone who shares this goal to work with us in UBL to get the beginnings of a practical solution in place and to support the members of the EWG in their efforts to organize UN/CEFACT in a way that would provide an appropriate long-term home for such a solution.

Jon Bosak
Chair, UBL Group
Designated Chair, OASIS UBL TC

Date:     Wed, 03 Oct 2001 08:34:15 -0700
From:     Klaus-Dieter Naujok <>
To: jon.bosak@Sun.COM,,,,
Subject:  Re: XML Business Document Library Project Team

This email is send on behalf of Peter Wilson:


Please send this to Jon and to the list servers that he sent his original message to. I don't know him, my intention is to be constructive.

I think Jon, while he has many things to say, is out-of-date with much of his message. Jon describes the situation as he sees it in terms of three sets of polarised conditions: the EWG against the CSG; the top down versus the bottom up, and UN/CEFACT against OASIS. I do not recognise any of these polarised situations and do not find them to be helpful , as inevitably it leads people to see one 'side' as inherently good and the other as inherently bad. Rarely is life so simple. Taking each situation by turn...

Firstly, the CSG and the EWG had an extremely constructive session in Rotterdam and it was one of the best meetings that I have had the pleasure to attend. Both the CSG and the EWG agreed completely to the UN/CEFACT Vision of the future. Both CSG and the EWG agreed wholeheartedly to an open, transparent and constructive process for the way forward which includes taking input from all UN/CEFACT groups. Yes, the CSG made an error of judgement over the summer months by going faster than it ought, but who can honestly say that no group is innocent on this count? The CSG listened to the user community and acted accordingly by spending quite a considerable amount of time reaching out and setting a consultative process in action. Jon may not know the years of business experience that CSG members have given to EWG and vice versa. It is not accurate or helpful to pitch one against the other.

Secondly, the future of e-business is not a case of bottom up versus top-down. The future is about combining these two work efforts. That is why UN/CEFACT backs both the core component activity and the business modelling activity. It is equally disingenuous and erroneous to say that top down solutions have all of the answers as it is to say that the bottom up activity has all of the answers. Both need to be business led. Jon might not know but many of the domain groups in EWG are involved in top-down business process modelling as well as taking stock of implementation experience learned from years of EDI. Myself and many of my CSG and EWG colleagues have been saying this in presentations for quite some time.

Thirdly, this is not a case of UN/CEFACT against OASIS. Both organisations learned much from the ebXML initiative and have much to benefit from a continued relationship. I understand a significant part of Jon's email to acknowledge that the UBL membership wanted to be part of the UN/CEFACT development arena. As a CSG member, I am fully supportive of this proposal, as indeed are many of my UN/CEFACT colleagues. If the UBL community want this to happen, and UN/CEFACT wants this to happen...what is standing in the way?

There is no such thing in life as a blank cheque, so UN/CEFACT cannot work on the assumption that the xCBL input can be accepted without modification or scrupulous review. Which organisation would say that?

What I can say as a CSG member - and I am sure that others will agree - that the work, if submitted to UN/CEFACT along with the necessary assistance from xCBL and UBL experts, will be considered as a significant contribution, openly and with professionalism. I am sure it was not his intention, but I would invite Jon--instead of seeing polarised situations where they don't exist and where people may be tempted to drive a wedge--to work with us to provide a single united business solution that brings the user community together. I will sign up to this. This is, after all, Objective One of Jon's stated aims.



Peter Wilson
Director, Operations
10 Maltravers Street London WC2R 3BX

Date:      Wed, 03 Oct 2001 10:52:16 -0700
From:      Klaus-Dieter Naujok <>
To:        eBTWG List <>, ebXML List <>
Subject:   Statement re XBDL & UBL

Send on behalf of Ray Walker.

Please find attached a statement from me regarding the CSG's position re XBDL and UBL.

Yours, Ray.

Ray Walker, Chairman UN/CEFACT Steering Group <>

Statement from the CSG Chair on XBDL and UBL

Over the past few days I have seen a number of e-mails which have referred to position of the UN/CEFACT's Steering Group (CSG) regarding the XML Business Document Library (XBDL) and the Universal Business Library (UBL). Some of these have mails have been mis-leading and I would like to clarify the CSG's position as follows:

  1. UN/CEFACT has always had a strong and legitimate interest in developing an open and global set of XML business-to-business document standards. This concern was one of the reasons behind the initiative that led to ebXML. During the 18-month rapid development stage of ebXML, UN/CEFACT's detailed work was formally put on hold but that moratorium was lifted in May 2001 immediately following the successful outcome of the Vienna meeting. XML business to business document standards are now an important part of our e-Business standards work programme;

  2. In developing an open and global set of business document standards we are prepared to work with any organisation that shares our goal. The only condition we make is that any contribution must be free of any IPR and there should be an open and international review process which considers all contributions;

  3. In particular we would like to work closely with the UBL community, especially since it has become an OASIS TC. However, despite a number of discussions we have, so far, been unable to cement a working relationship. A stumbling block appears to be pre-conditions which would restrict open development;

  4. We recognise that duplication of effort in international standards development is confusing and wasteful and so we shall continue our efforts to work for one convergent activity and remain open to further discussions with OASIS and the UBL community;

  5. In the meantime, to meet the needs of our user community, we shall pursue the development of XBDL with energy and commitment within our ad hoc group on ebXML (eBTWG)

  6. We shall transfer this work to our proposed e-Business working Group as soon as it has been approved which will be no later than May 2002.

Ray Walker
Chairman UN/CEFACT Steering Group

[See the original PDF version.]

Prepared by Robin Cover for The XML Cover Pages archive.

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