One of the often-touted benefits of extensible markup language (XML) is that it is an open standard. Although this is true, Hurwitz Group believes that a more realistic way to think about XML is to consider it a meta-language for defining a herd of stampeding standards.

A small herd of standards is already on the run and consists of XML-based messaging standards such as FIN- XML for financial transactions and C-XML for diverse commercial transactions. Numerous XML-based standards already exist and are in the adoption phase for the financial, manufacturing, healthcare, chemical and other industries. More than 100 proposed standards are listed on for exchanging data in accounting, communications, insurance, music, supply chain, weather and many other areas. Time will tell which will receive wide adoption and which will be trampled in the stampede by competing standards.

A far larger herd, however, will soon be in full gallop. Thousands of IT organizations are currently conducting studies, prototypes or development that involve creating data type definitions (DTDs) and XML schema. Every DTD or XML schema has the potential of becoming a "standard" of sorts, although the scope of its adoption may be rather narrow – say, just within a corporation or between a few partnering companies. The goal of many companies that use XML-based solutions in a business-to-business (B2B) environment is to get to the point at which IT systems can parse incoming, previously unknown XML schema and automatically support them. This way, companies operating as true e-businesses can quickly adopt to ever-changing opportunities with partners, customers, and information sources. As this "plug- and-play" B2B environment becomes a reality, the herd of DTDs and XML schema will proliferate wildly, driven by the rapid pace of e-Business.

THE HURWITZ TAKE: Although the stampede hasn't arrived yet, its dust cloud is visible on the horizon. The stampede will have strong impact on the automation of the supply chain because the great flexibility of XML will enable e- businesses to apply a commodity methodology that allows suppliers and distributors to achieve fastest time-to-market and the best price.

To take full advantage of these benefits, IT organizations must start planning an XML strategy today. A good approach is to develop an XML schema that represents the business model and data structures of the corporation. This internal XML schema then serves as a hub where incoming external XML schema map to the internal one which, in turn, maps to internal IT systems. An XML hub also enables translations between multiple, external XML schema. The alternative would be to support exchanges between every pair of XML schema that may arrive, which is obviously inflexible, unmanageable and unscalable.

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