For instance, when a company agrees to import a ship full of auto parts from South Korea, "you want to make sure that only one shipment is made," Smith said.
The ebXML standard can even be extended to include information governments need for customs processing, he added, though Smith acknowledged it will take time before importing and exporting can be carried out without a physical form or signature.
In one of Tuesday's demonstration here, a buyer searched an ebXML repository for a seller based on a set of qualifications. The search tool brought up a list of vendors, from which the buyer picked one and sent a proposed contract. The seller checked the proposal and clicked an "Accept" button and the deal was approved.
In another demonstration, an auto maker and an auto dealer automatically exchanged messages about the status of a shipment of cars.
The specification is intended for companies with fewer than 1,000 employees, and as small as one-person companies, and will be implemented in ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications, middleware and Internet-based exchanges, developers at the event said.
"We expect to bring the benefits of EDI to the vast majority of the world's businesses," Smith said.
Vendors at the event said ebXML will make it easier to provide lightweight, inexpensive software and online commerce systems to small businesses even in developing countries.
"They may not have an ERP system, but they can receive a purchase order over the Internet and respond to it," said Philippe De Smedt , an architect at e-business software vendor Viquity.
As long as a company can use HTTP (hypertext transport protocol) and SMTP (simple mail transfer protocol), they could participate in e-commerce through a Web browser interface, said Jacques Durand, vice president of Savvion, in an interview following the demonstration. Savvion plans to include an ebXML adapter in the next version of its business process management software, due out in February, Durand added.
The specification may help TIE Commerce's Hong Kong unit provide online commerce capabilities to small and medium-sized businesses, the vast majority of businesses in that territory.
With existing ERP software, "it's very challenging to get a small PC-based application put on a floppy so they can just put it in their PCs," and especially to integrate such software with existing ERP rules and terminology, said Joe Dalman, chief operating officer at TIE, in an interview following the demonstration.
While ebXML may represent a boon to small businesses that can now do business with the big boys, it also holds promise for large companies that want to eliminate expensive paper-based systems they now need for doing business with small suppliers, said Dale Moberg, manager of Internet strategy at Sterling Commerce's Commerce Services Group.