E-business registries face co-existence roadblocks in organizations

Directories make perfect sense for the e-business world. A universal directory would be the ideal “middleman” for brokering e-business relationships and transactions. Buyers and sellers need such middlemen to find each other and conduct business.

So it’s exciting to follow industry initiatives that are attempting to define universal e-business directory interoperability frameworks and services, also known as registries. Some of the more promising efforts include the Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) consortium, the Electronic Business XML (ebXML) Registry and Repository Working Group and Hewlett-Packard Co.’s E-Speak Service Framework Specification (SFS).

Unfortunately, all this activity seems destined to crash into the same roadblock that has kept general-purpose directories from being widely deployed within companies. The most stubborn hurdle, which none of these e-business directory initiatives address, is the need for new directories to coexist with legacy directories – and with directory-like repositories of identity information – inside organizations.

Anybody who has followed the market for metadirectory tools can name the major deployment issues facing e-business registries. First and foremost is the range of legacy directories and line-of-business applications that will have to feed identity information, credentials, profiles and other metadata into externally facing e-business registries.

Few companies have given much thought to how they’ll synchronize their existing internal LAN/WAN and e-mail directories, much less synchronize with identity, role and permission information in enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), supply-chain management, human resources and procurement applications.

Companies need to get their internal metadirectory houses in order before they can provide a regular feed of up-to-date directory information to external business-to-business registries.

Internal corporate politics often put a damper on ambitious metadirectory plans within companies, so it will be no surprise to see trading partners and e-marketplace operators wrangle over business-to-business directory administration issues. Disputes will pivot on issues such as directory data ownership, quality assurance, access control, privacy and replication. Enterprise directory and application administrators will think long and hard before letting critical operational data be hosted and administered outside their organizations and secure intranets.

Another critical issue is the still-immature state of metadirectory standards that address Internet-centric business-to-business network environments. The Directory Services Markup Language (DSML) Working Group, an industry coalition, has produced basic directory interoperability specifications that rely on XML syntax and HTTP transports, which are requirements for business-to-business directory integration.

But the DSML Working Group hasn’t defined a full-featured metadirectory environment. The specification doesn’t address the critical issue of DSML-based directory lookups and replication. Furthermore, directory vendors have not implemented DSML aggressively in their products and tools. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an ERP or CRM vendor that has implemented DSML.

Even within the rarefied environment of purely business-to-business registries, it’s not clear how these environments – UDDI, ebXML Registry, E-Speak SFS and the like – will interoperate. Industry participants are being careful not to commit to one framework and exclude the possibility of future support for other frameworks that may prevail commercially.

The ebXML working group has defined a “compatibility wrapper” that lets its registry interface with the UDDI partner and service registries. HP has committed to supporting E-Speak SFS integration with the UDDI and ebXML registries at some later date, although it hasn’t specified precisely how it will interface to these competing environments.

During the next few years, one of these e-business registry environments almost certainly will succeed and the others will wither away. Let’s hope for a clear winner, so the on-line economy can converge around a single ubiquitous registry. E-business is already complicated enough. It would be a shame if we had to deploy some kludgy “metaregistry” infrastructure to bridge competing business-to-business trading communities.

Kobielus is an analyst with The Burton Group, an IT advisory service that provides in-depth technology analysis for network planners. He can be reached at jkobielus@tbg.com. The opinions expressed are his own.