When TTI Inc. began exploring how to build its Web-based e-business platform, it quickly found there were going to be some tough choices to make in the area of standards selection.
A number of groups within and beyond the high-tech sector were working on XML (extensible mark-up language) guidelines to serve as the next-generation baseline for improving communications via the Internet and producing files that are easily read by computers. "It's a big alphabet soup," said David Love, TTI's manager of e-business systems, referring to the multitude of acronyms that describe the consortiums and their efforts.
The Dallas distributor decided to invest in the high-tech industry standards group RosettaNet, Love said.
But while dedicated to implementing RosettaNet standards, TTI is still watching other organizations, such as ebXML and Open Applications Group, and wondering if and when these alternate guidelines will converge into a common set of standards.
"Certainly, everyone wants one type of standard to develop, or at least know there's a path between different standards," Love said.
But like others feverishly developing e-business strategies, Love is unsure how these standards will evolve.
Seeing the confusion and the resulting paralysis it can cause, RosettaNet has unveiled a conceptual model defining the layers involved in creating a set of XML standards and mapping the complementary roles the numerous standards groups could play.
Cutting through the confusion
RosettaNet last week laid out a plan for converging its efforts with other groups, both within the high-tech space and across multiple industries.
"For b2b to become pervasive, it requires the availability of common vertical and horizontal business proc- esses and supporting standards," said Jennifer Hamilton, RosettaNet's chief executive. "While most of the XML initiatives are complementary, the number of announcements has led to mass confusion for many end users," she said.
That confusion, Hamilton added, has led to more of a wait-and-see attitude, or an "analysis and paralysis" frame of mind in which e-business decision makers drag their feet because they lack an understanding of the complex concepts and are uncertain which set of standards to adopt.
The RosettaNet presentation was the first formal attempt to explain where the overlap exists and, according to analysts, may be the first time anyone has attempted to explain the evolution of XML.
"This is a major step forward, from a conceptual perspective, because someone is finally trying to sit down and make sense of the alphabet soup," said Geoffrey Bock, an analyst at the Patricia Seybold Group Inc., Boston. "Developing a common standard is a process of discovery. Now that the pathfinders have created the path, someone needs to come in and write the map."
As a first take on this map, Rosetta-Net has developed a nine-layer model that breaks down the general XML standards into subsets, identifying where the myriad standards organizations and proprietary developers fit in. (See chart above.)
The model encompasses processes that can be standardized across all industries, and processes that are better left in the hands of a given industry or supply chain to develop. It addresses everything from how a message is routed through the Internet, to how individual supply chains share information with trading partners, to what the infrastructure should be.
Teaming up on XML
To better focus its energies, RosettaNet will step up its efforts to team with other groups to eliminate redundancies, and continue to emphasize developing standards that solve supply chain problems unique to the high-tech industry, Hamilton said.
RosettaNet, which is already working with the National Electronics Manufacturing Initiative, IPC, and the Silicon Integrated Initiative on standards for the electronic components industry, last week announced plans to leverage work being done by other industry groups.
From a universal messaging service standpoint, RosettaNet will support ebXML. The ebXML messaging guidelines will be embedded into Rosetta-Net's implementation framework and will increase the interoperability between different systems and trading partners, Hamilton said.
RosettaNet will also register 83 Partner Interface Processes (PIPs) within the Universal Description Discovery and Integration (UDDI) Universal Business Registry, which acts as the electronic version of the yel-low pages and provides a central location where companies can list their e-business attributes and find potential partners.
The roadmap for convergence and collaboration was applauded by a number of RosettaNet member companies.
"There will have to be convergence if we want to get to a common standard," said Charles Goodwin, director of b2b integration and RosettaNet programs at Intel Corp., Santa Clara, Calif. "The work RosettaNet is doing helps us better understand where there is overlap and as a group decide what standards we need to adopt and where we can work with others."