Auto industry pushes for XML unity

Seeking to reconcile two rival XML standards, General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Company and DaimlerChrysler AG are endorsing a plan calling for the auto industry to use a single XML-based data exchange of business documents.

XML is widely seen as a more flexible method to define sharing business content than electronic data interchange (EDI), the method the auto industry has used since the 1980s. The Big Three automakers and several of their suppliers said it makes sense to re-tool for XML. However, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which offers Web services, and the Organization for Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), with its e-business XML (ebXML) plan, present two similar but competing approaches.

“Both (W3C and OASIS) leverage XML but are largely incompatible,” said John Jackson, GM’s director of enterprise software.

The Big Three say they are going to push W3C and OASIS for convergence on XML standards. Because if that fails, the industry faces an increased risk of interoperability problems and a lower adoption rate for XML, they say.

“If I’m doing ebXML and my partner is doing Web Services, it’s not going to work,” said Tim Baeten, who leads the technical group at Ford designing the automaker’s next-generation interoperability platform.

“Convergence” suggests that the W3C and OASIS would agree on a common messaging approach, which is one way Web services and ebXML differ. There’s some optimism that demands from the Big Three might help that happen — but perhaps not fast enough for the auto industry.

“I expect convergence, but I don’t think it will occur in a reasonable time frame,” Jackson said.

Ford already uses Web services to share data with suppliers through its e-Hub portal, while GM and Volkswagen AG have placed their bets on Web ebXML.

Suppliers to the Big Three say they’re concerned that if the XML standards issue isn’t sorted out early, they will face demands from the automakers to use incompatible products. This issue is a cost and operational burden for parts manufacturers, despite the shift from proprietary networks to the Internet and use of some shared e-commerce facilities such as the Covisint Web portal.

“We’re concerned that we don’t end up with requirements from customers to do multiple things (with XML),” said Gene Hopkins, director of business-to-business communications at ArvinMeritor Inc., a truck and trailer parts manufacturer in Troy, Mich.

The carmakers also want software vendors to implement their XML-defined business documents in products, Baeten said.

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