B2B exchanges have garnered great attention this year, but a standard means for product and service providers to identify themselves and their offerings is missing. In effect, the B2B world lacks a yellow pages.
With over 600 B2B marketplaces online today, according to Forrester Research of Boston, Mass., finding new trading partners could be akin to pinpointing a needle in a haystack. That could inhibit growth.
In September, Ariba, IBM, and Microsoft announced the Universal Description Discovery and Integration (UDDI) project to solve that problem. UDDI is an XML-based framework said to provide standard APIs by which businesses participating in online exchanges can identify who they are and what types of products or services they provide.
Earlier this month, UDDI version 1 entered beta tests. "This is not a play for developing theoretical APIs," said Robert Sutor, IBM's director of ebusiness standards strategy. "We are now building registries that really exist."
The three founding companies will operate interlinked UDDI registries during the first test phase, Sutor said.
Version 1 will support basic identifiers. Those describe, for example, where a company is based or where it offers products and services. Identifiers include industry classifiers, employing a format known as NICS, for the North American Industry Classification Scheme, which is similar to Standard Industry Classification (SIC) codes used by the government. Today, the APIs are based on SOAP (Simple Object Access protocol), a Microsoft-developed technology for communicating XML over HTTP and potentially other protocols. IBM and others have joined Microsoft in promoting the SOAP format.
IBM is enhancing its MQSeries messaging software to support SOAP. IBM is at work on an internal procurement directory utilizing UDDI; it will be accessed by MQ Series software that recognizes UDDI formats.
The project principals are committed to developing two more versions of UDDI, about six to 12 months apart, and they expect to submit final results to international standards bodies in about 18 months. According to Sutor, the agenda for versions 2 and 3 have not yet been identified, although they are likely to look at infrastructure issues such as replication to distributed UDDI directories.
Sutor speculated that vertical industry groups might overlay their own identifiers. For instance, members of the electronics industry could add an interface that identifies whether a company is RosettaNet-enabled. The RosettaNet consortium, one of the earliest XML proponents, had been at work on industry specific EDI exchange formats.
For now, UDDI listings will be available free of charge. Sutor expects that most early users of UDDI will likely be cosponsors of the overarching standards effort. Many of those will be hardware, software, or services solution providers that are using the beta to test their own products' UDDI implementations.
With the beta announcement, membership in the UDDI coalition has grown to 130 companies. According to a company spokesperson, Oracle -- the last major holdout -- is "carefully evaluating" whether UDDI will become a "true industry standard."