RosettaNet group to use XML for interoperability

To improve their business interoperability, dozens of PC makers, suppliers and buyers last month announced they will begin using eConcert, a new electronic-commerce language based on the Extensible Markup Language (XML), by Feb. 2, 2000.

The eConcert project, spearheaded by the RosettaNet group, is intended to help trading partners collaborate more effectively by aligning their definitions of terms such as price, ship date and motherboard. But it will also align the way they do business through so-called “partner interface processes” or PIPs, RosettaNet CEO Fadi Chehade said.

RosettaNet, a nonprofit group, includes makers of chips, components and PCs, as well as VARs, retailers, integrators, major buyers such as the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), delivery services and business software vendors.

RosettaNet has already announced plans for an “implementation framework” for e-commerce transactions, as well as a dictionary of 3,600 commonly agreed-upon definitions for computer parts and business terms.

Some of the members participating in the eConcert project include 3Com, Cisco, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, Netscape and SAP. According to Chehade, last month several RosettaNet members said they are teaming up to do pilot implementations of PIPs, called “partner dances” because of the intricate choreography involved.

For example, six teams — including Intel, Ingram Micro, and Inacom — are working on catalogue update scenarios for processes such as requesting product data or creating product SKUs, Chehade said.

Three “dance partner” groups were scheduled to finish piloting their PIPs by the end of June. Five more “dances” will have finished the pilot phase by Aug. 9, Chehade said.

A total of 39 companies or agencies are committed to going live with RosettaNet PIPs by February.

RosettaNet’s directors decided to set the target date “beyond the danger zone…of [the year 2000],” Chehade said.

Ross Cooley, CEO of RosettaNet member pcOrder, said a collaborative effort such as this is very important for the computer industry, which has evolved a “terribly fragmented” order processes for each company, resulting in bloated costs and delays in delivery times.

“We view RosettaNet as a driving force [away from] what we call the Tower of Babel process,” said Rich Fricchione, vice-president of advanced technology and planning at Compaq in Houston, Tex.

The eConcert process should create greater efficiencies in the supply chain. And that should lead to lower barriers to entry for smaller computer vendors, more competition, and therefore lower prices, said Martin Wagner, associate administrator in the GSA’s Office of Government-Wide Policy, in Washington, D.C.

Other industries with complex supply chains, such as automotive, oil, and furniture, have shown interest in eConcert, Chehade said.

Vertical market place standard support is the key at this point of development, said Chuck Shih, a research director at the e-business transformation service with the Gartner Group in San Jose, Calif. Multiple development of XML standards will most likely fragment the language until the market forces the adoption of a single system at some point in the future, he added.

“The problem [with] XML-based commerce standards — the syntax, the business flows, even the type of XML technology that is used — is that people are all trying to form some kind of industry standard like RosettaNet, business standards like [Microsoft’s] BizTalk, or du jour standards like Oasis,” Shih said.

“We have a whole bunch of commerce-related syntax, technology, and business processes being developed by many different groups. RosettaNet has a good chance of succeeding [because] they are focusing on their particular niche.”

Computer manufacturers need effective e-commerce collaboration because they are under heavy pressure for fast and flexible production — mostly because of Dell, conspicuously absent from RosettaNet membership, said Beth Enslow, an analyst at the Gartner Group in Stamford, Conn.

RosettaNet in Santa Ana, Calif., is at