Push for XML puts bigger firms at risk

Web standards: XML will throw e-procurement markets wide open, but as the standards develop it will become increasingly important...

Web standards: XML will throw e-procurement markets wide open, but as the standards develop it will become increasingly important for companies to keep track of which version applies

The Government's insistence that all Whitehall suppliers must adopt XML and other Web services standards is likely to have an adverse effect on larger companies which have their own specialised procurement systems, analysts said this week.

Anwar Choudhury, director of technology strategy at the Office of the E-envoy, said last week that firms that do not comply with standards, such as XML, Soap, UDDI and HTTP, would "find their products unwanted".

Choudhury said standardisation would reduce the risk of project failure resulting from compatibility issues.

In addition, he said, emerging Web standards would provide a level playing field to enable small companies to compete for public sector contracts.

Michael Evason, an e-procurement analyst at research company Datamonitor, said this levelling out may come about because larger companies will have problems with integrating different technologies. "With e-procurement, the smaller you are the easier it is," he said.

"The problems arise when a company has to integrate technology into an already complex system. This move could mean the larger government suppliers struggle to keep their costs down," he added.

Evason said the Government's general procurement methods were inefficient and doubted whether technology could solve the problem.

"The Government does not act like a large corporate company in this respect," he said. "Firms like IBM have the mandate to tell their suppliers what to do, but I doubt whether the Government has sufficient impetus to do this."

The Government's ambitious 2005 deadline for bringing all of its services online could also create problems for its e-procurement plans, said Evason.

"The risk is that the Government, in its rush to meet the deadline, implements a version of this [standardised procurement] system that is nothing more than pretty wrapping paper hiding all the old inefficiencies," he said.

Neil Ward-Dutton, a research director at analyst firm Ovum, agreed that the 2005 deadline could create difficulties.

"Only the basic infrastructure itself is likely to be in place by 2005, so the Government needs to work in partnership with its suppliers beforehand to thoroughly test these systems," he said.

"It will probably be up to the suppliers to lobby for this."Ward-Dutton said the Government's insistence on using XML is not likely to prevent companies from doing business with Whitehall, as many firms were already implementing Web services.

"It may push companies to adopt Web services earlier than they would have anticipated but most are on the road anyway," he said.

"For example, it is not a huge step to jump from EDI [electronic data interchange] to Web services - lots of software companies offer integration services."

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