Supply chain partners typically exchange documents such as purchase orders, requisitions and invoices. Most companies use non-e-business media like fax, FedEx, snail mail and even e-mail attachments. Some companies do this today with electronic document interchange (EDI). However, in the near future many companies are planning to transfer such business documents (as well as large data sets) tagged with extensible markup language (XML).

THE HURWITZ TAKE: Despite the rise of XML, EDI will not disappear anytime soon. EDI is a 20-year-old technology that is mature, well established and clearly defined as a standard. EDI will linger for decades, just as any valuable legacy investment would. It’s anticipated that in the emerging e-B2B world, XML and EDI will coexist peacefully.

Companies heavily involved in an electronic supply chain should expect, within the next few years, to interface with a mix of EDI-based and XML-based systems. XML will be the predominant data format, and few XML-based solutions will understand EDI. So the onus will be on companies with EDI systems to enhance them with XML support. Companies with EDI systems in place will need to XML-ify them with solutions that can translate between the EDI X12 standard and multiple XML schema.

EDI-based systems have carried hefty price tags due to the specialized programming, difficulties of maintenance and excessive hardware requirements of many of them. By comparison, XML-based solutions are inexpensive to implement and cheap to maintain due to XML's simplicity and flexibility. As a result, suppliers that couldn't afford EDI-based solutions in the past are now planning to come online on the Internet with XML-based solutions. Hence, Hurwitz Group anticipates that the number of online suppliers will multiply many times over in the next several years as e-B2B ramps up.

NOTE: For an in-depth discussion of XML issues in e-business-to-business, be sure to hear Philip Russom present "The Role of XML in the Market for e-B2B Integration" at the XMLeadership Conference. For more information, visit http://www.brainstorm- group.com.

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