XML Vocabularies Key to Cross-Business Interop

This week, F100 IT execs and top providers of enterprise software and web services tools are meeting at an OASIS event to discuss how to make it easier for corporate IT to develop web services across vertical sectors. One idea is to build a common library of web services, akin to J2EE's common library of objects. IDN spoke with OASIS' President Patrick Gannon for more insight on why Boeing, GM, JPMorganChase, are so keen on the "The Future of XML Vocabularies."

Tags: Web Services, XML, Industry, Common, Standards, XML Vocabularies, OASIS,

This month, F100 IT execs and top providers of enterprise software and web services tools are meeting at an OASIS event to discuss how to make it easier for corporate IT to develop web services across vertical sectors.

The OASIS Future of XML Vocabularies" symposium is bringing together commercial and government end users, software and integration vendors and representatives from various Open Source and standards groups. One of OASIS' long-term goals is to help construct a common liobrary of cross-industry web services, akin to J2EE's common library of objects, OASIS president and CEO Patrick Gannon told IDN.

[IDN interviewed Gannon in-depth on the implications of XML vocabularies for cross-industry B2B implementations of web services (see IDN interview below).]

Among the IT execs slated to attend and/or present are from: Boeing, GM, JPMorganChase, and Cendent, as well as US and international government agencies. Vendors attending include: IBM, HP, BEA, SAP, Sun and other commercial Java, data and web services vendors. Mitch Kapor, chairman of the Open Source Applications Foundation, will provide the keynote address.

"This type of broad, influential participation is essential if we are to solve the universal semantic interoperability challenges that affect businesses in our global economy," Gannon said in a statement.

Kapor puts a high priority on having an open process for setting cross-communications methods for business communications, and making those making those methods freely available to public domain - either through Open Source or open standards initiatives

"The global economy depends on a foundation of openness and the coordinated production of an information commons--one which will not replace but transform proprietary ownership and market competition," said Kapor, in a statement.

An Integration Developer News
Interview with
Patrick Gannon, president and CEO of OASIS

IDN: What is OASIS trying to do with XML vocabularies?

Gannon: We're trying to set a stage for helping industries and governments deal with the next web services-type challenges, and that is how to use XML for cross-sectoral communications between companies and suppliers, companies and government regulators, and companies and customers. The key is to take XML schema and syntax outside of one industry and make that data traffic make sense to companies in another sector.

IDN: Are companies today already looking at using XML for better cross-industry communication?

Gannon: Well, yes and no. Over the past 5-7 years, it's certainly true that various industries have focused on creating their own vocabularies for their own vertical domain. Typically that involves getting people in that industry to answer the question: 'Well, what do we call this thing?' that we make, sell and move around. We have the manufacturers, distributors and the buyers all agree on a sort of glossary has been a key focus. But, today, what these organizations are finding [new issues] when they get into how you interact with others entities, and it's not juts about buying and selling things.

IDN: Could you give an example?

Gannon: Yes. So, as an example, say I'm GM and I have automotive industry action group standard for defining all sorts of auto parts. But, as GM, I need more than just [XML] vocabularies for parts I also have a 401K program, and I have to send info about our employees to insurance companies and the government agencies, and they don't talk my [automotive industry group] language . They talk their own language. And, further, they use methodologies, or definitions, with their language to define exactly what type of information is '401K information'. This realization is now hitting many industries that they can't operate in silos or stovepipe effects.

IDN: So, you're talking about much more than simply XML Schema transformation. You're talking about the idea that the underlying concepts about what the data means need to be aligned?
Gannon: Yes. That's where we're into the info flow side of it, and how do you use XML not as a definition mark-up language but as an information exchange protocol.

IDN: And how is that problem seen by the IT professionals and developers in these companies?

Gannon: What companies are finding is they are moving away from a document-centric way of communicating, to a more service-oriented mode of interacting. So, the idea is you have information, and you have XML-ized that information, such as with XML tags. So, now the question is 'How do you enable that new XML-ized information to be communicated in a variety of interactions that go beyond standard transactional documents?'.

IDN: And where would you say corporate IT is in this work to define these problems, and come up with solutions?

Gannon: It varies by industry, to be frank. Clearly many of the IT companies who sell products across industries, like IBM, HP, Cisco, and those types of companies, they understand that problem in spades because they are having to support their own customers that need special connectors and mappers and transformers to interoperate across multiple frameworks or different [XML] vocabularies.

But, the vertical industries themselves are just now waking up to this and asking: 'How do I use the new web service or SOA standard in a way that lets me be much more interactive and responsive to the kinds of messages and information exchanges that go beyond just my traditional trading partners in my own industry.

What are the technologies you see coming along that will help these companies finds those answers?

Gannon: Well, there are new areas like interoperability and knowledge reasoning, where tools can help, depending on how the technology is applied, But, I see the question differently. More important that just tools, we want to know how can we structure the creation of future standards in a way that minimizes the amount of silo and stovepipe effect. What can industry associations do with OASIS to create more commonality in the methodologies and the common functions?

Either making XML smarter to have implicit valkues, or make it dumber and add addendum to it. So, we're looking at standards from both approaches, and also structurally what do we do from a procvess standapoint and that is helping to solve more of the bigger problems.

IDN: Certainly for IT, Open Standards would be better that the need to buy commercial products. Have you any early successes in this interoperability of XML vocabularies, or any ideas of how to start up projects that would help IT in this area?

Gannon: Just this month, the Singapour government debuted the first element of what they call the Common Functional Element [CFE] for web services for electronic business. This CFE is first-level research aimed at how to use web services to define and describe cross-industry functions. As they began their first level of research, the government decided immediately they would make that work 'open' and not proprietary. The work now resides in OASIS as the core research for our Frameworks for Web Services Implementations. So, for example, if you take online orders and do not want to do your own credit card processes, there should be a common way for your web service to call an outside credit card processor, using common methodologies and vocabularies.

IDN: Hmmm. It sounds a bit like calling to a database or an application through a Java API?

Gannon: Well, it is a bit like the early days of Java in one respect. Back when Java started, programmers and corporate IT organizations had to write their own java objects because their just weren't many readily available. But, after a while there became available a J2EE common library of objects. We feel to make cross-sectoral web services communications easier for all parties, we should have a goal of a sort of library of common web services. And, in large part, that's what our work with XML vocabularies is about.