Technology and Society - Electronic Commerce



Business Data Interchange

XML meets EDI



Status of this document:

This document is still at a early stage and does not raise claim to completely cover this topic.
Please contribute feedback to the author pierre.kerchner@w3.org or W3C member mailing list www-xml-edi@w3.org (subscribe with mail to www-xml-edi-request@w3.org and subject:subscribe).




Reaching the best of two worlds is always a promising challenge, particular in this case, where XML and Electronic Data Interchange, todays most widespread Electronic Commerce application, meet. Both architectures have their individual background, history, advantages and disadvantages. The purpose of this paper is to contrast these two technologies, appreciating their nature to initiate a discussion where additional technologies are needed, based on the assumption that there is high interest among the W3C in further evaluation of XML as a data format for business purposes.

Merging the best out from 2 different worlds - combining existing technologies towards something new and superior. This can be a vision for the XML and Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), today's widest spread Electronic Commerce application. Both architectures have their individual background, history, advantages and disadvantages. A crossover could bring much benefit to the world of commerce as well as to the WWW and Internet. This paper shall give a brief analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Furthermore it is intended to raise discussion and evaluate resonance on this topic. There are profound assumptions that there is a high interest among the W3C members and XML&EDI will have it's impact.


Why Business Data Interchange?

Internet standards are getting the common denominator for open and global information exchange. HTML and the WWW, important and central parts of today's Internet, are evolving towards the next stage: the eXtensible Markup Language. One big strength of is XML is to supply explicit semantic through flexible markup.
This architecture would also reasonably improve Electronic Commerce. The gain on efficiency describing and exchanging business transactions electronically is enormous - decreasing cost, increasing service, speed and quality (e.g. see Michael Hammer, Business Process Reingineering) but also open completely new possibilities on information usage. Existing commerce applications like traditional Electronic Data Interchange (Trad-EDI) lack of integrated processes and interoperability - the WWW and Meta Data fill these gaps.

Some members of the W3C might acknowledge this coherence and are therefore very interested that XML is not only used as document format but additionally also as data format describing e.g. business data.


Problems of Existing Approaches

Old and existing standards like EDIFACT or ANSI X12 have grown during the last 25 years. At a time when storage and bandwidth were very expensive, many different Trad-EDI standards evolved through multilateral agreements and long standardization processes. The document architecture is very condensed and tense through high context sensitivity and code qualifiers. This results in a very compact message format, but which is not very easily parsed and processed. Furthermore the architecture is not designed towards modularity and extensibility (transport layer, syntax and semantics are merged)

Nevertheless there are many proprietary and non-compatible subsets due to the wish for total and global approach defining also quite uncommon business cases (industry solutions). This soon turned out as complexity trap. Standards got too complex, deployment costs to high to be attractive for small and medium sized companies. Despite that about 100,000 companies adopted a Trad-EDI standard during the last 25 years (95% of Fortune 1000 use Trad-EDI).

Today's world changed - there is different infrastructure and consequently different requirements appear. Processing power, storage and bandwidth are relatively cheap. Globalization of markets and information is emerging. Complexity on the other hand leads to high implementation costs which avoids wide spreading or global deployment, because high qualified manpower is still very expensive.

EDIFACT EANCOM-Invoice example:

6:1090.12'UNT+20 +00000000000001'UNZ+1+0000000000000


Fields of Improvement/Advantages of Meta Data 






Roles of new W3C-Technologies

XML (eXtensible Markup Language)

RDF (Resource Description Framework)

XSL (eXtensible Style Language)

DOM (Document Object Model)

XFDL (eXtensible Form Description Language) = external submission


Questions and Goals:




Important EDI key players - Existing Standards


Key Players:




  Valid    HTML 4.0!

Copyright  ©  1998 W3C (MIT, INRIA, Keio ), All Rights Reserved. W3C liability, trademark, document use and software licensing rules apply. Your interactions with this site are in accordance with our public and Member privacy statements.

Pierre Kerchner, W3C Electronic Commerce
Last updated: $Date: 1998/10/16 15:56:49 $