'Yellow Pages' for the web: let your fingers do the walking



David Bicknell

From time to time, problems crop up in e-business that have all the key players uniting to find a solution. Last week, another of these...



David Bicknell

From time to time, problems crop up in e-business that have all the key players uniting to find a solution. Last week, another of these problems arose.

Ariba, Microsoft and IBM have banded together to combat one of the main problems for companies conducting business on the Internet, the slow speed of finding the goods and services they require. Organisations do not have time to wade through heaps of information; they simply want to find a supplier or partner quickly depending on what industry they are in or by what service it offers.

Ariba, Microsoft and IBM have produced a standard system, equivalent to the Yellow Pages, to categorise and search for businesses that offer services over the Web. They will begin by operating a central database that will manage and store all the directory information.

The concept Universal Description Discovery and Integration (UDDI) will allow businesses to register on a central database by providing information in three categories: company contact, industry and services or products. Companies can also list what kinds of technologies they support so customers can immediately see if their technology will work together with the supplier's.

The system developers say they will release technical specifications for filling out a Web-based registration form to be listed in the database.

UDDI also offers the prospect of helping to cut costs for business-to-business e-commerce technology to a reasonable level.

Analyst groups such as Meta have already suggested that if IBM, Microsoft and Ariba can bring UDDI forward quickly and actually launch the Web site based on it soon, users will be able to accept it as a baseline standard. They will then be able to focus attention and money on developing the business rules they want and the interfaces based on those rules for machine-to-machine transactions along the supply chain.

We'll see.

It was disappointing to see that for family reasons e-envoy Alex Allan has to give up his role. I wish him well on his return to Australia.

Having seen how difficult the role was, the Government should ensure that Allan's successor is given a chance to succeed. What it might require, in fact, are three successors - one concentrating on revolutionising government IT, one meeting government targets on the growth of UK e-commerce, and one negotiating internationally to create global policy on Internet-related issues. E-government is the biggest challenge, getting departments, such as the Treasury and the Home Office, to recognise that e-business is a must for UK industry and electronic government.

Doubtless, Allan's departure has been overshadowed by the fuss over that money-guzzling white elephant in Greenwich. But far more important, is what the Government does about e-business.

My candidates for the job(s) are: Anne Steward, who chaired the original task force on project disasters; Jim Norton, of the Institute of Directors and the Government's original choice for the job; and a dark horse, Legal & General's e-commerce director Margaret Smith.

Smith, formerly IT director, and one of the most influential figures in financial services e-commerce would bring a no-nonsense approach to the job, and she'd deliver. But having seen how difficult the job is to do, you'd question why either would want it.

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