1 June 2002
Using Web services standards
By Ellen Fussell
Mergers and acquisitions, as well as an emphasis on getting products to market more quickly, have led to what Mark Richardson calls information fragmentation.
"This fragmentation has reduced control and made it more complex and more expensive to manage new product introductions," he said.
Richardson of E2Open, a collaboration networking management firm in Belmont, Calif., said the company is focused on business partner integration-helping companies share product information and collaborate on products over the Internet. It provides standards-based software that connects companies and their business partners in a high-tech industry.
E2Open is just one of the new age companies that wants to take advantage of a Web services specification called universal description, discovery, and integration (UDDI). The specification is being developed into a standard by a coalition of high-tech suppliers led by IBM, Microsoft, Ariba, and others to help simplify integrating business services (or Web services) using the Internet.
Companies such as E2Open can use the standard now to help business partners integrate their services. Companies need a directory of services to help lower the cost of integration, and the directory needs to apply to all industry players—electronics, software, and tool vendors—said Greg Clark, chief technology officer of E2Open. His company's main focus is on life cycle management and supply chain management. "The existence of standards in this business partner integration is key," he said. "Our mission is to drive those standards into the industry via our services."
Having the closed loop between information systems and trading partners work in sync instead of rekeying or typing information on faxes is a complicated process, Clark said. "To have critical processes, forecast processes, purchase processes, inventory management processes, and product life cycle processes in sync, you have to have integration," he said. "It's difficult to do any kind of distributed system integration without a directory. The directory is the system of record for business process integration interfaces."
Web services companies can create a process directory using UDDI. These directories publish high-tech electronics supply chain process interfaces to companies' business partners. "The process directory is the place you go on the Web to find the company and the interfaces the company supports electronically," Clark said. "If you have a preexisting contract with that company, you can find these interfaces in the directory, then you can execute the transactions between those interfaces."
Companies that are already doing business with one another can more cost effectively integrate their systems.
"So when you change something in your process, there's a communication to the other company," Clark said. Owners of the interfaces for the computer-to-computer communications go into the directory and authorize another company to be able to use them.
Does UDDI help?
Companies can use UDDI to help them publish critical information for general industry consumption and to lower the cost of integration so companies can do business more cheaply, Clark said.
While UDDI gives a description of the service and interface, Clark said, directories can use UDDI to describe high-tech electronics integration interfaces, to help users hook up to a supplier. The directory would tell users how to get their computer to talk to that site-how to integrate purchasing processes with selling processes.
Although UDDI is a useful open technology for directories because it gives companies the convenience of integrating on the Web, "the schema isn't that well defined," Clark said. The main goal is to tell users how to represent business interfaces in high-tech electronics. "We could publish all kinds of things with UDDI: supplier location, name and address, and the products they sell," he said.
How UDDI works
If a company is in the directory, UDDI tells a programmer how to connect to that company, and the programmer uses that information to make the connection. "You could use different types of connections," such as simple object access protocol or extensible markup language (XML), Clark said. "Then the specification will tell you how to connect to that company using the XML protocol and what kind of XML you'll get back. You then import that XML definition into your XML processing software. So you can deal with that information when it comes back. It tells you what the service is and how to connect to it.
"The standard doesn't specify registration processes. It doesn't answer questions like, 'How can I go through the business process to ask IBM if it's OK to connect to them?' It doesn't tell you how a company uploads a definition into that directory or how to register and how to go through the process of managing the definition."
Clark said a process directory could be "a total solution around the management of the content that's in it-of the UDDI service it provides." IT
|COLLABORATION IN A NUTSHELL|
|A company might collaborate with an electronics manufacturing company for a new product introduction or engineering change. The same company might also manage the relationship with critical parts suppliers. After designing the new model, the company would give it to the electronics manufacturing company to manufacture, providing the forecast for how many to manufacture. Then it would tell the manufacturer how many it actually sold so the manufacturer can understand when it's time to make more.|