XML And B2B Standards
Just how important have data standards become? Consider this. Without consistent, well-documented and easily understood standards, it’s likely that the internet would have remained a technological curiosity and would not have become such a central part of our world. Rapid success and universal adoption of the World Wide Web (WWW) can be traced directly to the establishment of the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium). The W3C is the internet standards body and established and maintains the standards for the WWW.
Although we now take it for granted today, imagine not being able to read a website on a mobile device. Or what if each website was written in a proprietary data format and you needed to download specific software every time you went to a new website (which would make hyperlinking virtually impossible, among other problems)?
In the business realm, business data standards are just as critical. Robust data standards ensure that all trading partners are “speaking a common language”. In the past this was often considered a nice to have, but today the ability to seamlessly share data between industry partners means increased efficiency and productivity and is vital for powering Big Data.
In the business world, XML is the leader in enterprise level data standards. What HTML standards have done for the human exchange of information on the WWW, XML has done for the exchange of business data between systems. So what is XML?
Introduction To XML
XML (eXtensible Markup Language) is a text-based mark-up language for structuring data content into self-describing metadata tags. It is a software and hardware independent tool for storing and transporting data.
It was designed to create documents, and data records that are fully portable, and platform independent. XML is not a business language, but requires a business language to be defined within it, like a programming language.
Because XML is just information wrapped in tags, it requires a software application to send, receive, store, display, and validate the data. As of today, there are many applications and programming languages available to process XML data.
XML is a document standard that is maintained by the W3C, an organization that is responsible for Web standards, including the web standards mentioned in the beginning of this post (HTML,CSS, etc.). XML documents are vendor-neutral, and they are not tied to one application or one company. XML provides a much richer data capability than other approaches. It is designed for the web. XML tools provide more options for interoperability. One of its primary benefits is that it enables more advanced types of eBusiness connections and application integration such as web-based or process-based integration.
XML and its many related technologies, provide a flexible and powerful framework, to create and process XML data. Some of the most common XML technologies include XML Parsers and Validators, The XML Path Language (XPath), The Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations (XSLT), XQuery, and XML Databases.
STAR: An Example Of Successful Data Standards
Standards for Technology in Automotive Retail (STAR) is a nonprofit, dues-paying organization whose members include automotive dealers, manufacturers, retail system providers, and automotive-related industry organizations.
Incorporated in 2001, STAR's objectives are to define the open, standard XML message formats for dealer-to-OEM communications (e.g., Parts Orders, Sales Leads, and Credit Applications), to define an open, standard architecture to support the delivery of messages between dealers and OEMs, and to standardize the dealership IT infrastructure.
By embracing XML Standards, STAR has successfully developed a business messaging framework that is open, global, powerful, and flexible. The XML methodologies adopted by STAR are the foundation of an agile development platform that supports the business needs of the automotive, marine, trucks, power sports, and construction equipment retail industries.
The STAR XML Schemas have been designed to leverage the globally-recognized UN/CEFACT Core Component Technical Specification (CCTS) and the Open Application Group Integration Specification (OAGIS) Business Object Document (BOD) Methodology. In addition, the STAR XML Schema Repository is written using the W3C XML Schema Language.
A Deeper Look At STAR: The STAR XML Messages Structure
STAR defines XML business messages as a Business Object Document (BOD). A BOD is a Business Object Messaging Architecture. This common messaging architecture has been designed to attain interoperability between disparate systems, disparate companies, and disparate supply chains. Interoperability can be achieved between internal applications, and business to business applications.
By agreeing to a common messaging architecture, companies can exchange information between heterogeneous systems, and provide the necessary exchange sequence of messages to perform specific tasks.
For example: Trading partners, using the STAR standards, can send a parts order to a business partner, and this would include the instructions to process the parts order, the instructions to acknowledge receipt and processing of the order, and acknowledgement of whether it was fully accepted and processed.
This sequence of messages, in the example above, is called a “BOD scenario” by STAR. STAR can identify existing built-in scenarios in the STAR Standards, or define new ones to accomplish the execution of business tasks, and achieve interoperability with our trading partners.
The BOD Messaging Architecture is transport method agnostic, and it can be used with simple transport protocols such as HTTP, SMTP, FTP and more complex communications methods such as Web Services, SOAP, and ebXML.
Below is a typical example of a Parts Order scenario:
- ProcessPartsOrder - To send, and request from the receiver, the processing of a parts order.
- AcknowledgePartsOrder - For the receiver to acknowledge that the parts order was successfully received, and processed.
- ConfirmBOD - For the receiver to report that errors were encountered during processing of the message.
STAR, currently supports over 200 standard messages (BODs), in 40 business areas. Collectively, STAR Members actively develop new BODs, and improve existing ones.
STAR And Motive Retail
Motive Retail has been an active member of STAR since 2012, using and promoting the STAR standards and providing proprietary software to STAR and its members. Besides assisting STAR, Motive Retail has worked closely with multiple standards based schemas and standards organizations, and has helped rollout implementations across the globe.
The adoption of STAR by many automotive manufacturers is a key reason for the improvements in dealer to OEM business processes and sharing of data between trading partners. As the automotive industry advances to meet the challenges of the connected car and enhanced mobility options, robust standards will play an increasingly vital role.
Why Do So Many Standards Organization Use XML?
XML has many features that have made it the de facto standard for enterprise class Business to Business Integrations, Application to Application Integrations, and business interoperability requirements. These include:
- Robust tooling availability
- Thriving community
- Support of W3C
- Large variety of development and editing tools
For these reasons and others, XML has been embraced in many industries including Agriculture, Human Resources, Health Care, Chemical, Auto Insurance, and Vehicle Collision Repair.
XML Forever? Probably Not
While XML celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2016, and will continue to be an essential component of many industry standards, we must also look to the future. Just as XML replaced many older formats, XML will one day be supplanted by a newer, more efficient format. Currently, JSON looks to be a major player in data standards, allowing many of the benefits of XML while being “lighter”, faster and more efficient.
These features will be critical for the extension of data standards beyond large, enterprise class systems and into the realm of mobile devices and even “Nano-devices”. While JSON is not currently capable of providing all of the features and benefits of XML, much work is being done to extend its functionality and its interoperability with XML.
Many data standards organizations are now making plans to either supplement their existing XML data standards with JSON or eventually replace XML with JSON. Ultimately the real strength of a data standards organization is not necessarily the data format (which will always be evolving), but the ability to create a consensus within the industry for the need to maintain and implement robust standards and ensure their adoption.