Decoding XML

XML has been much-vaunted recently, and the key is to get everyone on the same page - making collaboration work in real life rather than only previously in flow charts and presentations.
Written by Samuel Quek, Contributor

As much as XML has been much vaunted recently, the key is to get everyone on the same page - making collaboration work in real life rather than only previously in flow charts and presentations.

"The more we standardize, the more flexible we can be,"

Steven Yeo

Early Egyptologists had long searched for the key to interpreting the ancient writings that had stood the test of time. All their attempts at deciphering the hieroglyphics were pure guesses until the discovery of the Rosetta stone.

The stone allowed the historians to put together the elements of Egyptian literature with a measure of certainty - it provided a standard to refer to.

Judging from its choice of name, the founders of RosettaNet intend to do just that - create an XML standard for companies to communicate with.

The consortium already consists a number of heavy-weights, including chip manufacturer Intel, direct-sales proponent Dell, and various others that benefit from an environment that is truly collaborative with their partners, suppliers and clients. The collaboration spans the IT, electronic components industries and not a few supply chain players.

Needless to say, the potential of XML (eXtensible markup language) has been expounded upon tirelessly in recent months. Not at all surprising, since the new language allows for flexibility and interoperability that previously only existed in flow-charts and presentations.

The aim of RosettaNet is to transform the supply chain from a linear environment to a more dynamic one.

One of the major influences for this collective push was the collation of several industry trends, most notably, competitive pressure to achieve operational efficiency.

"The more we standardize, the more flexible we can be," said Steven Yeo, vice-president of RosettaNet Singapore.

Having a more dynamic supply chain structure would allow companies to cater to more types of customers.

At the very core of the RosettaNet system, is the usage of Partner Interface Processes (PIPs). The purpose of each PIP is to provide a common business or data models between businesses, to enable them to "talk" to one another.

Each PIP contains parameters that have been developed by recognizing the needs of the industry, allowing individual corporations to communicate seamlessly with one another.

For example, PIP 2A1 specifies processes for distributing new product information to buyers, enabling enterprise systems to accept product orders, and to help populate buyers' online sales catalogs - all without human intervention.

Other PIPs allows corporations to update product information dynamically, manage purchase orders, query product availability, and bill each other, as well as other business and technological processes.

PIPs can cost a corporation anywhere from US$100,000 each to US$1 million for two to three PIPs, depending on the functionality. Though some PIP clusters are ready for implementation, others are still being worked on.

The challenge of the PIP development process is for the consortium coming to a common agreement.

"They are going to be some business processes that are going to have to change," said a representative of the consortium, pointing out that it was a small sacrifice towards the end result of getting more customers.

Already companies like Intel and Motorola have embraced the standard wholeheartedly, and have been reported to ensure that all their suppliers adopt the same standard.

At the end of the day, RosettaNet's objective is to try to "streamline business processes and open them up to their external business partners," says John Soh, sales director for Sterling Commerce, one of the key integrators for RosettaNet in the region.

Already, companies are already in the process of re-thinking their processes, said Soh.

Sterling Commerce, has been in business since 1974, and has at present the core competency of enabling other companies to do e-business.

RosettaNet presently plays a rather prominent role in Sterling Commerce's business, according to Gerry Fosnick, manager for Sterling Commerce's e-business solutions division in the Asia Pacific office. The company also provides consultation and integration services for clients who are interested in adopting the RosettaNet platform.

Sterling sells their Gentran server XML module as an option for companies that depend on collaboration via XML to do business.

The server provided data translation capabilities as well intelligent routing of data and documents.

The aim of the Gentran server was to create a homogenous processing and data management environment, regardless of the format of incoming or outgoing messsages.

The system enabled translation from one XML format to another totally different XML format, or even to EDI (electronic data interchange standard) and other proprietary formats.

The latest offering of Sterling's is an upgrade of the previous Gentran server, built with RosettaNet implementation on top of the existing system, allowing the server to continue their traditional e-business processes while directly mapping RosettaNet schemas in order to do business along that standard.

Already, Sterling has helped to implement the Gentran RosettaNet server at Kyocera Corp. in Kyoto, Japan earlier in October this year.

The electronic components corporation has tested and implemented the server for use with one of their partners, using PIPs to manage purchase orders and notify order acceptances.

Future phases will see the company adopt more partners and aim towards collaborative forecasting, inventory reporting, inventory allocation, and inventory replenishment using PIPs.

The implementation was reported to take all of five days, with transactions taking place by day three.

At the moment, RosettaNet has a presence in the US, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore. Plans are being made to be physically present in Korea, as well as Australia and China.

A competency center is also being planned to be set up in Singapore, with a partnership being discussed with the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).

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