IBM Corp. Mircosoft Corp. and Ariba Inc. next week will propose an XML-based standard that will allow thousands of vendors to register their businesses in a Web-based database, which will help them match up with partners and carry out e-commerce transactions, according to industry sources briefed by the companies.
The three companies have come up with a standard called Universal Description Discovery and Integration (UDDI). They intend to ask a dozen or so other key companies in the industry to serve on an advisory board, and together they will evolve the specification during the next 12 to 18 months before turning it over to an open-standards body.
The proposed online database would allow a company to register all of its basic corporate information, "much like you might find in a brochure or on a Web site," according to one source.
Perhaps more importantly, a company also will have the ability to register all of the technical aspects of its e-business, such as the transport protocols that it is able to support.
"What this [database] will eventually be able to do is allow you to automate the integration of a b-to-b [business-to-business] transaction," a source said.
Currently, companies integrate the technical aspects of their business by going through the laborious process of custom-coding large portions of their products to get them to work together seamlessly. But by searching the online database for appropriate partners, companies would be able to save time and money by contacting only those prospective partners with whom they best match.
"Even with things like Java and XML, which makes this sort of integration easier, people still spend a lot of time figuring out how they are going to interact with someone's business," another source said. "So what [the vendors behind the initiative] are hoping for is that everyone who registers using this [UDDI] standard will achieve this dynamic integration."
Sources close to the initiative said the proposed specification gives Microsoft -- typically reluctant to join such movements -- a chance to look more solidly committed to open standards.
Some also believe Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft is joining the trio because the company feels it is somewhat behind in b-to-b products and industry alliances compared to IBM and Ariba.
"Microsoft knows it does not have a leadership position in the b-to-b space and that Ariba and IBM have been more aggressive there. It is also an opportunity for them to look like they are opening up a little more," one source said.
Microsoft has been working toward opening its b-to-b efforts, particularly around the forthcoming BizTalk Server 2000, its platform for enterprise application integration and b-to-b integration. The company also formed the BizTalk.org community to drive the adoption of XML for e-commerce and application integration and is pushing adoption of SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), an XML-based connectivity specification.