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Electronic Commerce: XML and Its Impact on Electronic Purchasing


Patti Hegland
Patti Hegland, Vice President, American Management Systems, Inc. (AMS), Fairfax, VA 22031, 703/227-6988,
Gregg Mossburg
Gregg Mossburg, Principal, American Management Systems, Inc. (AMS), Fairfax, VA 22031, 703/227-5575,
Eric Livingston
Eric Livingston, Principal, American Management Systems, Inc. (AMS), Fairfax, VA 22031, 703/227-6439,

84th Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1999 

Abstract. Since its formal approval as a standard in early 1998 (the World Wide Web Consortium granted XML 'formal recommendation status' in February), eXtensible Markup Language (XML) has been the 'talk of the town' amongst Web-based software application vendors, industry visionaries, and aggressive early adopter organizations. The reason for so much attention is that organizations all over the world and in every different industry are examining the benefits of automating business processes that extend beyond the traditional 'enterprise' and enable them to interoperate with next generation 'electronic communities'. XML's role as a meta-language (a language used to build another language) promises to significantly impact the way businesses of all sizes share information within 'electronic communities' of the future.

AMS's Procurement Solutions Group, in conjunction with the AMS Center for Advanced Technologies (our applied research lab), is working with our procurement clients (in Federal, State and Local, and commercial markets) to help put XML into context. While XML discussions today tend to be very technically focused (obviously you must have a thorough understanding of how a technology works before it can be successfully implemented), we are also focusing on helping our procurement clients determine, from a business perspective, where and when XML makes sense. In other words - what impact will XML have on electronic purchasing?

In order to demonstrate the procurement-related business value of XML, this presentation offers first a business-oriented definition and overview and then provides a description of three procurement-related business processes that will be impacted by XML:

  • Working Together - Electronic Catalog Interoperability
  • Enforcing Web-enabled Contracts - eXtensible Forms Description Language (XFDL)
  • Electronic Data Interchange in the Internet Age - XML/EDI

Working Together - Electronic Catalog Interoperability. Perhaps the most critical characteristic of a successful electronic catalog is the ease with which it helps end-users locate the items for which they are searching. Integrating an electronic catalog into an organization's business processes is going to change the way in which end-users do their jobs - if it is difficult to operate, or doesn't provide a variety of different ways in which to search for items, it will not be used. In order for an electronic catalog to make a user's experience quick and easy, it needs access to - and an 'understanding' of - every supplier's data that the buying organization wants to make available. In other words, for 'electronic communities' of the future to be successful, supplier's electronic catalogs must become interoperable. XML is a meta-language that will facilitate the creation of interoperable electronic catalogs that will facilitate a buying organization's ability to:

  • Locate products
  • Compare products
  • Create customs catalog views
  • Locate complimentary products

Enforcing Web-enabled Contracts - EXtensible Forms Description Language. XFDL is an emerging standard for representing legally binding contracts and forms on the World Wide Web, and is based on (and extends) the XML specification. XFDL defines the elements that appear on an on-line form, complete with data types, simple underlying calculations, validation rules, and associated prompts and text. XFDL allows an individual to electronically sign all or portions of an XFDL form using any agreed upon electronic signature technology, and allow interested parties to later establish the coverage of that signature without resorting to any outside software. XFDL encapsulates the form textual and data elements, responses, and signatures in one document that can be stored and archived independently of any software programs, enabling the information to remain accessible and readable by people for decades, long after the associated software may no longer be accessible.

Electronic Data Interchange in the Internet Age - XML/EDI. There is strong momentum in the IT industry to create interoperability between existing EDI networks and emerging XML-based eCommerce relationships. Many companies now using EDI would like their existing technology and infrastructure to remain viable and useful while complementing it with new XML-based capabilities. This is the underlying mission of XML/EDI integration specifications. Currently, many EDI transactions are being defined using XML, allowing data to be translated between the two formats. In addition, EDI translator vendors are incorporating XML as an input and output format for conversion to and from EDI using their tools. The marriage of EDI and XML will allow high-volume, established trade relationships that rely on EDI to continue to function normally, while adding XML transaction capability for smaller or less established trading partner relationships. At the heart of the systems, however, the same processing can be used on the back end to handle both transaction types, which is critical in maintaining the integrity and efficiency of the transaction systems.

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