The EBXML (Electronic Business XML) project, which UK supply chain standards body e.centre is overseeing, is designed to improve the interoperability of XML software meaning retailers do not get locked into a single supplier.
XML is a standard for describing data and will be a cornerstone of web services, which promise to allow applications to share data over internet systems without user input.
The first adopters of EBXML in the UK will be in the food service sector, as early as this summer, Weatherby said.
More than 60 million food service orders are made each year using manual processes, such as phone and fax, and e.centre estimates these orders will be transferred to EBXML within two to four years. "EBXML can support a much broader range of electronic transactions, increasing the total number of potential transactions six-fold," said Dave Weatherby, senior executive for product marketing at e.centre.
The interoperability tests, based on specifications from the Organisation for the Advancement of Structured Information Systems, will promote EBXML as a standard for users in the UK and beyond, said e.centre.
XML software providers, Perwill, SAA and XML Global, have successfully completed the first phase of the trials, which tested the core functionality of the suppliers' products. This is a key step towards increased XML take-up, said Weatherby.
"If the [XML] market is to take off, it has to be interoperable otherwise the credibility of the software is damaged," he said. "This is proof that the concept can work."
The project will also benefit smaller companies which have not been able to take advantage of electronic data interchange, the traditional messaging standard, said Peter Jordan, director of IS strategic projects at Kraft Foods, which has signed up to the EBXML project.
"It will open the door for smaller companies, helping them improve communication," he said.