Last month we looked at business-to-business (B2B) trading communities. This month's column will examine Microsoft BizTalk for B2B e-commerce. From this discussion, you will be able to identify potential BizTalk applications in your enterprise.

BizTalk has been developed by Microsoft and is supported by many organizations. These range from technology vendors such as SAP and Commerce One to technology users such as Boeing and BP/Amoco. BizTalk is not a standards body. Instead, it is a community of standards users with the goal of driving the rapid, consistent adoption of XML to enable electronic commerce and application integration.

The BizTalk Framework is a set of guidelines on how to publish schemas in XML and how to use XML messages to easily integrate software programs to build new enterprise application integration (EAI) solutions. The design emphasis leverages existing data models, solutions and application infrastructure ­ and adapts it for electronic commerce through the use of XML. Details about BizTalk are available directly from the BizTalk Web site at http://www.biztalk.org/ or the BizTalk Web site at Microsoft ­ http://www.microsoft.com/biztalk/. Microsoft plans to release its BizTalk Server 2000 product to support the BizTalk market in late 2000.

BizTalk defines XML tags (called "BizTags") for document handling and routing information. They define information similar to that used by a physical envelope for message delivery. This includes a

with tags defining the , and address details and relevant processing applications, a

detailing for the receiving application information that is transmitted in the message and then the document . The typical BizTalk message (see Figure 1) shows a platform-neutral XML message with delivery details defined by the BizTalk tags as in an envelope. BizTalk does not dictate any specific hardware, operating system or language for message transmittal, receipt or processing. The sending and receiving organizations can make these decisions independently of each other.





12345678
2000-03-17T10:00:00+10:00
Purchase Order


http://www.supplier.com/po.asp



9876
6
POProcess



mailto:receiving@customer.com



9876
6
RcvProcess





Supplier_PO_9876
Supplier Purchase Order


... ... ...
... ... ...
... ... ...

Figure 1: Typical BizTalk Message

The actual documents to be delivered are contained in the of the message. Clearly, in this example these documents are one or more purchase orders. The XML tags that detail the content of these purchase orders may be defined by the sending enterprise (customer.com in this case) and so must also be understood by the receiving enterprise (supplier.com). The definition and interpretation of these XML tags must be agreed by both enterprises ­ hence the establishment of trading communities as discussed in last month's column, typically organized by industry.

For example, in February General Motors, Ford and Daimler-Chrysler, strong competitors in the USA, joined forces to create one of the world's largest trading communities to buy $240 billion per year from tens of thousands of suppliers. In this case, the relevant document XML tags will be defined by these large customers and must be understood by their many suppliers if they are to do business with them in the future. But, in most cases, customers and suppliers that trade with each other in many industries must all agree on their own common XML tags.

As described in earlier columns, XML tags are based on agreed definitions of meta data. This meta data is defined from integrated data models, using established data modeling methods such as information engineering (IE) and enterprise engineering (EE). Once identified, this meta data is captured and managed in meta data repositories by modeling tools. This integrated meta data is used to generate data definition language (DDL) scripts automatically for integrated databases.

However, we are now seeing the emergence of a new class of modeling tools that also use this same meta data to generate XML data files, document type definition (DTD) files and document content description (DCD) ­ or XML schema files required by BizTalk and trading communities. We are also seeing the emergence of new XML database products and B2B integration servers.

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