Think of XML as a four-in-one tool

Imam Hoque, head of technology, Rubus

Imam Hoque, head of technology, Rubus

XML (Extensible Markup Language) may have risen to fame on the crest of a wave of Internet hype, but, according to Imam Hoque, head of technology at e-consultancy Rubus, the industry can expect to see it become more mainstream in 2002.

Beyond the arguments about XML's role in setting the standard for B2B e-business projects, Hoque says XML gives us the means to approach projects with a whole new way of thinking. "And what makes it really exciting is that XML has already begun to deliver real results, not just technology promises," he says.

Hoque says that, to get the most out of XML in 2002, astute IT professionals will no longer view XML as just a Web thing, but will begin to use it as a key four-in-one tool for all IT projects. He lists the four uses as:
  • XML for data repositories
    Do not assume that data needs to be stored in a relational format. For every project you should take a look at using XML. It could make your applications considerably more flexible, future-proof them and save you time.

    No longer do you have to be restricted by relational models, normalisation, hideous change control and the lack of a meaningful data structure. Documents will be treated as documents, and XML repositories will become as ubiquitous as relational databases.

  • XML for multi-channel content management
    XML is the ideal format for storing documents, content or document fragments because channel-independent formatting tags can be included. It can easily be repurposed, through the use of style sheets, for any output format, whether it be print, PDF, RTF, Web, e-mail or mobile.

  • XML for B2B
    XML has become the de-facto standard for data transfer, but what makes it particularly powerful is its ability to transform from one format to another easily. So, while the standards bodies bicker over who owns the schemas for a particular industry, there is no need to worry, if you are using XML.

    For 2002, generic B2B gateways that support key transport protocols such as EBXML, Rossettanet or Biztalk will all be able to use XML transformations to handle any schemas that your partners may adopt. At last, a one-size-fits-all solution.

  • XML for middleware
    You should not assume that XML stops at B2B. With the advent of Web services, middleware has become a continuum from extremely tightly coupled transactional solutions, through message-oriented middleware and on to the very loosely coupled B2B solutions. But, at the end of the day, it should not matter which mechanism you choose, the data format should be the same: XML.

There are now code libraries for just about every platform to make it easy for a developer to pick up the incoming packet of data and write code to process it, without having to worry about the code breaking if the data message formats are changed - instant future-proofing.

Hoque says it is because of this four-in-one ability that XML will continue to grow in importance and be seen as the bedrock for all IT projects. The crux of this lies in its self-describing structure, which can reflect the nature of a company's data better than the normalised relational database model. Data formats can be changed without having to rewrite code, and can contain rules to tell the recipient just how to process it.

"This opens up the ability to change business functionality by changing data, rather than code," explains Hoque.

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