Commerce program looks to bolster EC with common library of XML definitions

“Without some kind of common business library, the whole promise of XML goes out
the window,” Tenenbaum said recently.

Officials in the Commerce Department’s Advanced Technology Program apparently
shared Tenenbaum’s view enough to award a $4.8 million contract in 1997 to the
CommerceNet consortium and three Internet startup companies.

“This is very infrastructural technology. That’s the beauty of it,” said
Shirley Hurwitz, ATP manager for the Commerce award.

The award program, which funds high-risk ventures, has helped three small Internet
companies develop a library of XML document type definitions (DTDs) and other technologies
for Web commerce.

One of the recipients, Veo Systems Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., just released a first
set of XML-based DTDs, called the Common Business Library 1.1.

Any government agency or vendor can download the DTDs from

The XML-based DTDs fill a gap where there is “no common set of semantic building
blocks for trading-partner networks,” Hurwitz said.

The DTDs will enable spontaneous EC integration and open trading-partner networks,
“which are the future,” said Tenenbaum, chairman and chief scientist of Veo

Several agencies are trying out the Veo library’s technical capabilities during
the Interoperable Catalog Pilot currently under way, Tenenbaum said. The Defense
Information Systems Agency, Defense Logistics Agency, General Services Administration and
NASA are participating.

“The first cut is to take all the government-aggregated catalogs and show they can
share their information with each other,” Tenenbaum said.

Veo Systems also submitted its library of DTDs to the CommerceNet consortium’s
framework working group, which is developing a public repository of XML data elements
related to commerce.

“It’s a good start, and we hope and expect that this group is going to build
on it,” Tenenbaum said.

Veo Systems’ XML-based document type definitions are comparable to a unified data
model of common business objects in the database world, “except that XML is a much
more generic way to represent this stuff,” Tenenbaum said.

Some proponents of EC even talk in terms of plug-and-play commerce, Tenenbaum said.
“In the same way that the Web made publishing explode, XML is going to make direct
business-to-business, computer-to-computer commerce explode,” he predicted.

But the XML standard has a downside, Tenenbaum said. XML makes it so easy to define a
set of tags for business documents that he and others fear people will rush to do exactly
that. “Then no one will be able talk to the others,” he said.

No good alternatives to XML exist for spontaneous EC, Tenenbaum said. He dismissed the
Hypertext Markup Language as “good for eyeballs, not for computer-to-computer

Another alternative, the Common Object Request Broker Architecture syntax called
Interface Definition Language, is too complex for widespread EC use, he said.

Veo Systems is building a set of shrink-wrapped tools for government and its business
partners to design Common Business Library-compliant business forms and map them to
existing standards such as the American National Standards Institute’s X12
transaction set.

With Veo Builder, organizations design the business interface they want to present on
the Web. Then Veo Server runtime software parses the XML-tagged documents and invokes the
services called for, Tenenbaum said.

The tools do the parsing and invoking “without any prior agreement about
programming interfaces or anything else,” he said.


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