Bolero.net is the latest in a line of initiatives designed to develop universally-accepted trading standards. But too many standards will hinder XML-based e-commerce, warns Danny Bradbury.
The battle for the hearts and minds of e-commerce implementers got a little more heated this week thanks to an announcement from Bolero.net.
The Internet trading standards consortium unveiled a raft of new XML-based trading schemas for e-commerce partners, delivering a broadside to the Biztalk standards initiative.
Bolero.net, formed by banking consortium SWIFT and insurance group TTClub, has released an initial set of document type definitions designed to appeal to companies engaged in international trade. There will be further announcements in June, which will cover 90% of all common trade transactions, says Bolero.net.
The service, which also offers a legal infrastructure for international trade in the form of the Bolero Rule book, uses the Unified Modelling Language (UML) - a graphical software design language originally produced by Rational Software - to denote business processes. The UML documents are then used to create an XML-based schema for the businesses concerned.
The creation of commonly-accepted document type definitions and schemas for XML-based e-commerce transactions is also the goal of Biztalk.org, an industry drive started by Microsoft to introduce guidelines for publishing and using XML schemas.
The www.biztalk.org site already has a variety of downloadable XML schemas submitted by member companies.
Microsoft's John Noakes says Biztalk will help companies to leverage their existing non-XML-based resources by providing a framework for migrating existing standards to XML.
Strictly speaking, Microsoft isn't attempting to hijack the XML standard, although the implementation of a Microsoft-backed standard for the introduction of XML schemas can only be a good thing for the company.
It will leverage the Biztalk.org initiative to draw industry support for its own Biztalk Server, the e-commerce transformation and transaction server, which went into beta last week and which will hopefully ship in November.
"What's especially impressive is the way that they have put their arms around the whole payment and insurance mechanism," says Noakes, commenting on Bolero.net. "It does look very impressive. We haven't had any direct dealings with them but I'd like to speak to them."
Bolero.net's attitude to Microsoft is a little more ambivalent, if comments from the initiative's project manager Peter Brooks are anything to go by.
"The problem I see with the Microsoft approach is that if you go and search for an order, you will find 10 different versions of an order that different companies have put up there," he criticises.
"We are trying to take a cross-industry approach and take a broader perspective. There won't be lots of different orders but there will be flexibility in the order for whatever parties need it."
Bolero.net isn't alone in trying to define a universally-acceptable standard for XML-based transactions.
The Business and Accounting Software Developers Association (Basda) has released the first schemas as part of its eBIS-XML initiative, with which it also seeks to cover cross-sector business-to-business e-commerce processes.
Brooks says he hasn't communicated with Basda, emphasising the international focus of his initiative.
Such a standards drive is a laudable goal, but duplicating these efforts is bound to lead to confusion.
With all of these standards initiatives trying to carve out design frameworks and universally-accepted schemas separately and at different levels, one thing is clear: users will remain conservative about XML-based e-commerce for the next couple of years at least.