What is it?
Supply chain packages have to compromise between proprietary mechanisms that give a competitive edge, and the need to communicate with partners.
In an ideal world, all these packages would be able to exchange transactions using a common framework, with common dictionaries of transactions, and common mechanisms for establishing and securing relationships.
XML promises to provide the means, but so far there is no universal solution, and different industries have developed their own approaches. The computer, telecoms and electronics industries, the pioneers in this field, came together to set up the Rosettanet standards.
Applications communicate via XML-based message schemas and process instructions known as partner interface processes (Pips), which define business processes between trading partners.
Much of the work involves defining, developing and testing the Pips, and there is also a thriving business in certifying that applications will work together.
Earlier this year, Rosettanet launched an initiative to spread the use of its standards to lower tiers in the supply chain by providing a "system-to-human" interface that allows trading partners to participate by simply filling out and exchanging electronic forms.
Rosettanet Automated Enablement (RAE) is being backed by IBM and Intel, among others, with Adobe contributing the Portable Document Format for the forms.
On past experience - with Electronic Data Interchange, for example - multinational manufacturers can be expected to insist that their suppliers sign up for the programme, so RAE use should become widespread.
Where did it originate?
Rosettanet is a non-profit organisation with 1,000 company members in the US, Europe and Asia, mostly in the computer, electronics, telecoms and allied industries, plus supply chain software and services specialists.
It was founded in the US in 1998, and subsequently set up affiliates in Europe, Asia and Australia. It is part of a group of allied organisations involved in developing and testing codes and standards, including the Uniform Code Council, testing organisation E-Business Ready, and the United Nations' Standard Products and Services Code.
Rosettanet is named after the Rosetta Stone, which is carved with the same message in both known and unknown languages, and led to the deciphering of the Egyptian hieroglyphics.
What's it for?
Rosettanet standards are non-proprietary and freely available on the Rosettanet.org website. As well as Pips, standards include the Rosettanet Implementation Framework (RNIF), which provides the exchange protocols, and covers transport, routing and packaging, security and trading partner agreements.
The common properties of Pips are defined in the Rosettanet business dictionary and technical dictionaries.
What makes it special?
Despite initiatives such as Rosettanet and Microsoft's Biztalk, enterprise application integration still consumes a large proportion of IT spend, and specialists in integrating external supply chains are in high demand.
How difficult is it to master?
You will need a good grounding in XML, as well as some knowledge of supply chain management. Experience of SAP, Oracle Applications, i2 or similar enterprise resource planning, manufacturing or supply chain software will also be an advantage.
Where is it used?
Companies developing or implementing Rosettanet standards include BT, Microsoft, Fujitsu, Dell, Cisco, i2, DHL, IBM and NTT.
What's coming up?
Compliance with EU and other environmental legislation for the management of IT product lifecycles and disposal is keeping the Rosettanet community busy.
Free XML training modules are available on the Rosettanet.org site.
Rates of pay
Supply chain specialists can look for £35,000 and upwards. The big consultancies have an ongoing requirement for these skills, with high fees for senior practitioners.