Coalition proposes standard to foster B2B commerce

A coalition of 36 vendors and consultants led by IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Ariba Inc. today announced the framework for a new standard designed to ignite business-to-business electronic commerce.

The partners introduced the Universal Description, Discovery and Integration Project (UDDI), an online worldwide business registry that will live on the Web. The three leaders of the project, who have been working on UDDI for six months, say it will provide the foundation for companies to conduct business with each other over the Internet.

The core of the framework is the UDDI Business Registry, an XML-based repository where businesses can list who they are, what services they offer and how to interface with their computing systems. UDDI provides a standard way for businesses to describe details about themselves in those three areas.

The registry will support a number of application program interfaces (APIs) for soliciting information and contributing information. Those APIs will be based on the Simple Object Access Protocol and will be built into vendors’ products. For example, IBM plans to integrate the APIs in Websphere and Microsoft plans to use them in its server software.

The goal is to make integration of business systems, which happens today using expensive EDI technology, cheaper, faster and easier.

The UDDI framework is built on TCP/IP, HTML and XML and supporters hope to turn their work over to a standards body in 18 months.

However, the first three registries, which will be run by IBM, Microsoft and Ariba, are expected to go into beta in 30 days. The registries will be interconnected much like today’s Domain Name Service (DNS) on the Internet, which provides a way for computers to locate one another.

“The new shape of business is the electronic marketplace and there is a need for a system where partners can discover each others interfaces,” said Jim Kobielus, an analyst with The Burton Group in Midvale, Utah. “It means tighter integration without a lot of work having to be done between IS departments.”

Over the past 18 months, XML has been the focus for electronic commerce and business integration but most of the work has focused on using the data description technology for vertical industries. Today there are thousands of business marketplaces on the Web, many of which are supported by vendors that have joined in the UDDI Project, including WebMethods and CommerceOne. But the UDDI effort plans to be a ubiquitous directory providing access to any and all businesses on the Web and not focused on one particular industry.

The project, backers said, will provide a springboard for all electronic commerce.

The scale of the project, “will lower the cost of transactions, accelerate the value of B2B commerce and is the only way to meet industry projections for the growth of B2B into the trillions of dollars,” said Larry Mueller, president and CEO of Ariba.

The group says it will take small steps at first and hope that industry momentum carries UDDI forward.

“We will solve some key problems first, learn as we go and take input for improvement from many people,” said Paul Maritz, group vice-president of the platforms group at Microsoft. “We tried to first tackle basic, obvious problems – how to categorize businesses, how to find them and how they advertise their services.”

The UDDI group plans three releases of the framework, which includes white pages, yellow pages and green pages. The white pages are where businesses describe themselves and list contact information. The yellow pages will list businesses by industry, product and services, and location. The green pages are where businesses will provide information on how to integrate with their business processes and services.

The first version of UDDI will be just basic information, but subsequent versions will include more detailed information such as how to deal with specific business units or follow strict workflow guidelines. The second version of the UDDI framework is due March 2001 and the third version is expected in December of the same year.

The UDDI members do not plan to charge for use of the directory. IBM, Microsoft and Ariba are each funding their own UDDI implementations. Other companies participating in the effort include American Express, Andersen Consulting, Bowstreet, Dell, Nortel Networks, SAP, Sun Microsystems and VeriSign.