B2B standard arrives late, gathers support

In September, Ariba, Microsoft and IBM vowed they would spark the development of a business-to-business Internet directory standard that could greatly simplify completing transactions over the Web.

The trio of high-profile vendors said the Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) project would kick off with a beta version of the protocol appearing last month. While these plans failed to materialize on time, the vendors now say the first implementation of the effort is ready.

With UDDI, the companies hope to create a simpler way for businesses to search for partners and customers than what currently exists on the Internet. Ariba spearheaded the project to create a unified way of coding what a business does and where it is located into a centralized directory. When a vendor looks for a particular service, it can find information on what a given company's operations are, the types of technology that company uses, and the transaction protocols the company can accept and process.

As Internet search engines often confound users with too much information, the UDDI project attempts to use a specific set of codes to point companies in the exact direction they hope to go.

The project was developed as an open standard and remains open to any vendors wishing to post their company information into the UDDI database. During the September announcement of the project, American Express, Compaq, SAP, Dell, Nortel Networks, Andersen Consulting and about 30 other companies said they would aid the development of the fledgling effort, helping to work out bugs and provide consulting services. Last week's announcement said another 47 companies have joined the effort.

Ariba, IBM and Microsoft will initially maintain the servers that contain the directory's information but have said the data will be turned over to a standards body in about 18 months. At the moment, the UDDI system contains three types of information, divided into what the vendors refer to as white, yellow and green pages.

The White Pages will contain business names, descriptions of the type of business, and other information regarding the kinds of services a vendor uses and also what technology it can respond to. The Yellow Pages adopts current government codes for tagging types of business operations as well as international and technology-based naming protocols. In addition, the Yellow Pages arranges companies by geographical location. The Green Pages should provide more specific information on what types of documents a company can receive, the entry points for transactions and the technology it interacts with and supports.

During the next 18 months, the partners said they hope to expand the number of categories and add more complete features to help smooth the searching capabilities of the business-to-business effort. Suggestions include customizing the categorization features and accommodating the needs of large corporations with a variety of business units focused on different goals. In addition, a number of vendors expressed interest in building upon the standard as it progresses and developing registries with customized features that lie on top of UDDI.

At the time of its release, the trio of vendors pushing the project said UDDI can only work if it receives wide participation.

"We don't want to compete on standards,"" said Larry Mueller, president and chief operating officer for Ariba, when the project was first announced.

IBM: www.ibm.com Ariba: www. ariba.com; Microsoft: www.microsoft.com

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