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Telecommunications Data Interchange Standards Begin to Emerge

by Carla Corkern, Highland Consulting, SGML Open Sponsor Member

Over the years, the Telecommunications Industry Forum Information Product Interchange (TCIF/IPI) committee has struggled with defining an interchange standard for telecommunications documents. Various proposals were submitted by members and evalulated by the committee; some even being trailed extensively by committee members. Until now, however, there has not been a proposal that all TCIF/IPI participants felt adequately addressed the challenges of exchanging documents for our industry. As is true with most standards activities, the more we work with the standard the more issues we uncover and I am sure that with the release of these standards to the industry we will face even more challenges.

Last summer the Telecommunications Industry Forum Information Product Interchange (TCIF/IPI) committee submitted two letter ballots dealing with telecommunications document interchange. These long awaited guidelines cover text file formats and an overall "exchange package" directory structure developed and tested by the Committee. Later there will be guidelines on graphics and hypermedia.

The two guidelines, affectionately known to Telecom insiders as TIM and TEDD (Telecommunications Industry Markup and Telecommunications Electronic Document Delivery), are designed to address information interchange between producers of Telecommunications equipment and the Providers of Telecommications Service Providers.

Telecommunications Electronic Document Delivery Package

The TEDD Package is a specification for how information should be organized for interchange between trading partners. A TEDD package provides a document-management mechanism through its admin directory where trading partners can find "card catalogue" information for the document. Other TEDD directories contain text of a document, print images of a documents (for feeding a print-on-demand system), and graphic files called by the document. Optionally, there may also be browser-viewable versions of the document (HTML or PDF); receivers may choose to create their own viewable version from the richly marked-up text files. The TEDD Package in an earlier form was exhaustively tested by an independant trial conducted by BellSouth Telecommunications in 1993 which asked several switch vendors to provide information according to this organizational scheme. BellSouth found the organization scheme helpful and made many useful inputs into the update of the new TEDD Package specification. The new package has just completed its final testing by many of the IPI participants.

Telecommunications Industry Markup

The TIM Document Type Definition (DTD) is a specification of how information for describing the structural information contained in telecommunications documents using SGML. The TIM DTD is based largely on the DOCBOOK DTD released in 1992 by the Davenport group. TIM extends DOCBOOK by describing the structural constructs that are found in telecommunications documents. TIM supports any type of graphic or multimedia object, though preferred formats will be specified in later IPI Guidelines, after a period of testing by the TCIF/IPI Interchange Team.

The first release of TIM will be supplemented by "plug-in modules" of semantical descriptors for Methods and Procedures and Requirements documents. The plug-ins are currently maintained as a data dictionary by the TCIF/IPI Interchange Team which manages the change process for the dictionary. The data dictionary is expected to grow and expand to cover other types of telecommunications documents. The TIM DTD also allows trading partners to design different plug-in modules for the DTD to facilitate each trading partners goals for information delivery and retrieval.

The TCIF/IPI committee is very happy to announce the forthcoming release of these two new guidelines. If you are interested in more information about the guidelines or want to participate on the committee, please call committee chair Diane Tucker of BellSouth (diane.tucker@bst.bls.com or phone +1.205.977.7337). You can get information on TIM and TEDD and on the IPI committee by anonymous ftp from info.bellcore.com (www.bellcore.com on the WWW).

Carla Corkern is an SGML consultant in Dallas, Texas. She currently manages large scale technical projects in a variety of industries. Carla has also served for many years on the TCIF/IPI Committee and has been recognized for her work in the telecommunications industry.

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