Eye on XML

Web services may be on the lips of the entire tech industry, but corporate North America seems to be conversing in a different dialect.

I found the most telling statistics from the InfoWorld (U.S.) Test Center Research Report on Web services to be the remarkably slow rate of adoption for XML. Of the 500 technology purchasers and strategists surveyed, only 30 per cent had implemented an XML-based application.

Although groups in the technology vanguard, InfoWorld(U.S.) included, are eager to push new concepts such as Web services, we should take care in preventing our readership from stumbling over some basics essential to future business success.

I frequently hear the misconception that XML is necessary only for companies migrating to Web services. XML is useful in a variety of applications, moving interoperability from a transaction level to a vocabulary level.

By separating content from presentation, XML can structure complex data to be easily translatable among disparate platforms, systems, and partners.

Although useful for messaging, directory services, and wireless, XML faces friction in areas such as electronic data interchange (EDI), where long-standing successes draw XML’s practicality into question.

But companies must consider the demands of future business objectives – the ones where speedier collaboration will be a make-or-break proposition to success. XML middleware can greatly mitigate the development time and expense compared to back-end system code rewrites.

The standards developing out of XML aim to further improve its functionality. Projects such as XML Linking Language (XLL), XInclude, and XQuery, the XML query language, will provide scalable document structures and improved search abilities that will advance content-and knowledge-management systems as well as the intelligence of Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation (XSLT) cross-document translation.

Now certainly much work remains to be done in XML, particularly in areas such as industry-specific vocabulary building. But that is the beauty in the extensibility of XML: Adoption today does not preclude you from capitalizing on tomorrow’s advances.

If you are among the 70 per cent of respondents to our report who are avoiding XML, I encourage you to begin exploring its benefits today. An XML project does not need to be tackled all at once. Focus your efforts on business lines that will benefit most from the streamlining of data exchange and take advantage of the wide selection of products and data-modelling tools at your disposal.

XML will help you simplify your infrastructure and, as e-business becomes increasingly complex, isn’t that something for which we’re all shopping?

James R. Borck is managing analyst in the InfoWorld (U.S.) Test Center. Contact him at james_borck@infoworld.com.