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The European XML/EDI Pilot Project will test the role of the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) new Extensible Markup Language (XML) for electronic data interchange (EDI) between businesses and other organizations.
The vastly increased speeds, and much reduced cost, of modern communication systems have changed the economics of electronic data interchange. This, combined with the steadily falling cost of computer systems and the wide accessibility of the Internet and the World Wide Web, is presenting a unique opportunity for the global development of electronic commerce systems by harnessing existing EDI technologies with new forms of Internet technology.
The European XML/EDI Pilot Project combines two existing approaches to electronic commerce - XML and EDI. EDI is a well established technique for the interchange of data between businesses, based on an agreed format (e.g. the UN/EDIFACT family of standards). However, the complexity and high cost of EDI implementations today has inhibited the adoption of EDI, particularly across sectors and by small and medium-sized enterprises.
XML extends the HyperText Markup Language (HTML) that made it possible to create the World Wide Web (WWW) of information that can be accessed today through the Internet. XML will form the basis for information interchange between the next generation of computer systems. XML will enable applications based on the use of interactive forms to connect trading partners.
The European XML/EDI Pilot Project is one of a number of projects being undertaken by the Electronic Commerce Workshop of the Information Society Standardization System within the European Committee for Standardization (CEN/ISSS). The project is open to all interested parties.
The pilot project will explore how XML can be used to provide an interface between existing EDI applications and the next generation of XML-aware applications. As well as developing XML representations of existing EDI messages, the project will study how to create reusable intelligent software agents that can validate the structure and contents of EDI messages and pass appropriate parts of each message to other processes. The interactions involved will be formally documented, using XML, so that they can be shared between applications as easily as the message data is shared.
The pilot project will also study how the XML Style Language (XSL) currently being developed by W3C could be applied to enable EDI messages to be presented to human operators in a way that takes account of their linguistic and cultural background. It is anticipated that adoption of this approach will lead to the development of simple and lower cost interactive business-to-business EDI applications.
To ensure that the findings of the project can be widely distributed within the EDI community the project will provide a support centre where those interested in using XML for EDI can obtain the information and advice that they need.
The draft Guidelines for using XML for Electronic Data Interchange prepared by the international XML/EDI Group provide the starting point for the project. The XML/EDI Group is a special membership organization of the Graphic Communications Association Research Institute (GCARI) based in the USA. The project works closely with the European chapter of the XML/EDI Group.
The XML family of standards are firmly rooted in the work done by the community of SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language), one of the most successful standards in information technology, over the past 15 years. They also build on proven, scalable Internet technologies. There is no denying that any project based on new technologies, even one with impressive antecedents, bears a risk. XML is only just beginning to be deployed in large-scale applications, and there are some aspects of its new facilities that are currently only partially tested. However, given the commitment to XML by virtually all the major vendors today, it is a technology that is key to the continual development of information exchange over the Internet.
One of the major success factors of the World Wide Web has been the increased speed of development made possible by users' willingness to share their experiences, and the code they have developed to demonstrate new functionality. If the business community is to benefit from this new philosophy it will be necessary to set up facilities whereby new users can find out what has already been done to analyse EDI messages into XML objects, and what still needs to be done to meet their needs. As well as setting up an XML/EDI information site where businesses can find information about European activity in the field, this CEN/ISSS project will encourage the setting up of registries where XML document type definitions (DTDs), which formally document the components of an XML/EDI message in a computer processable form, can be stored for use by new applications.
To find out more about the current status of the European XML/EDI Pilot Project and access the project documents, visit the project web site (http://www.cenorm.be/isss/workshop/ec/xmledi/isss-xml.html), subscribe to the project e-mail discussion group (from our web page) or contact: