Friday, January 28, 2011

Why the OASIS Business Document Exchange TC is important for the future of e-business

Exchange of most business documents still happens on paper. Why is it that we in 2011 after several decades of use of advanced ERP solutions and PC’s at everyone’s desk still use paper as a medium to carry data between IT systems in different organizations?

The answer is simple:

We use paper as a medium to carry data between IT-systems in different organizations because we have still not solved the interoperability problem between service providers. And there are several layers of interoperability that we must address:
  • Organizational interoperability: Alignment of business processes and business models 
  • Legal interoperability: Alignment of legislative frameworks ensures a level legal playing field 
  • Semantic interoperability: The content and semantic meaning of business documents 
  • Technical interoperability: Transport protocols, security, trust 
But one may argue that we have interoperable answers for each of the interoperability layers. E.g. the OASIS UBL TC has standardized semantic interoperability for a number of business documents. The CEN WS BII has standardized a number of business processes describing the exchange of UBL documents. The ebXML framework has provided technical interoperability with ebMS and a whole framework for entering bilateral exchange agreements.

This is all good - but it is not a complete solution! No single framework has described interoperability across all layers where different service providers acts as intermediaries between businesses (the four-corner-model).

And the SMTP/Email model does not work when it comes to real e-business with exchange of business documents carrying real value. Elements like trust mechanisms, addressing mechanisms, security in transport and non-repudiation becomes very important when we exchange confidential business data.

The OASIS Business Document Exchange (BDX) TC aims to specify the remaining pieces in the four-corner-model.
  • Establishing trust between service providers 
  • Addressing recipients and their capabilities between service providers 
  • Secure and reliable transport between service providers 
  • Secure and reliable transport between a service provider and an end customer 
The vision of the BDX TC is that one or more global instances of service provider networks built on the BDX specifications will evolve. This would allow a seller in the US to receive a purchase order and return an invoice to the corresponding buyer in Spain. It would be sufficient for the buyer and seller to be connected to independent service providers. The service provider may never have exchange business documents between each other before but the exchange will still go through.

If you can recognize some of these challenges and would like to contribute to the solution – then I encourage you to join the BDX TC. Lets solve this now – once and for all.

Mikkel Hippe Brun
CSO & Co-founder, Tradeshift

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