OASIS to preview business document XML system

OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) this week plans to preview a pre-released version of Universal Business Language (UBL), a standard library of XML-based business documents such as purchase orders and invoices that can be used for transacting e-business, an OASIS official said Jan. 17.

UBL features XML Schemas as well as modelling to define how the documents are used, said the official, Marion Royal, vice-chairman of the OASIS library content subcommittee and an agency expert for the U.S. General Services Administration in Washington, D.C.

The language is an attempt to solve the problem of disparate document communication between different organizations, Royal explained.

“What we have today in XML is a number of different vocabularies. In other words, if I define what a purchase order might look like for my company or my agency, it may not look like what a purchase order looks like [for another agency],” Royal said.

“XML is the underlying protocol with which these documents are exchanged,” Royal said. “A similar exercise was done with EDI and people had to agree on what these transaction sets would look like. This is an effort to do that using XML as a protocol or asyntax.”

The version of UBL being presented next week is version .70, not a general release. The UBL Technical Committee at OASIS will seek public comment on the document, Royal said. A general release is expected in 2003.

An analyst, however, said he doubted OASIS would succeed in providing standard forms for business. “How can hospitals and manufacturing firms and aerospace industries all share the same notion of an invoice?” asked Ronald Schmelzer, analyst at ZapThink LLC in Waltham, Mass.

“Even if they all adopt the core business language, they’re going to have different extensions on it,” Schmelzer said. “I don’t think this is going to be any magic pill,” for getting documents to agree with each other, he added.

Schmelzer said he favoured a concept known as the semantic Web, which would have computers are more intelligent in understanding semantics.

The OASIS UBL initiative is tied in the UN/CEFACT, a United Nations effort for establishing international standards for conducting business, said Royal.