WebReference.com - Part 2 of chapter 12 of XSLT Developer's Guide, from Osborne/McGraw-Hill (1/4)
XSLT Developer's Guide
B2B Integration and EAI Using XSLT
[The following is the conclusion of our pair of excerpts from chapter 12 of the McGraw-Hill title, XSLT Developer's Guide.]
Many companies have built disparate systems over time without paying a great deal of attention to how these applications may share data with each other, and the need for integration among these applications has likewise grown over time. That is why enterprise application integration (EAI) has enjoyed a great deal of attention for nearly a couple of decades. EAI is a very broad topic, and entire volumes have been devoted to it, and a detailed discussion of EAI is outside the scope of this book. In connection with XSLT, what is relevant to us here is that in any EAI undertaking, information interchange and rules-based data transformations appear to be dominant needs.
Even when companies have streamlined their internal business processes and executed successful application integration initiatives, they have generally done so within the confines of the enterprise. However, for companies to be successful in the larger scheme of things, the automation of B2B commerce is needed. The potential benefits of B2B electronic commerce include:
- Reduction of excessive paperwork
- Elimination of manual data-entry errors inherent in the rekeying of data at the recipient's end
- Quicker transfer of business information between trading partners that could lead to faster response times
- Supply-chain efficiency improvement and just-in-time inventory management
- Cost savings for all trading partners
Companies have been aware of these benefits for a long time, and business-to-business electronic commerce itself is not new. What has changed over the years is the way it is conducted and the cost of conducting it, and consequently the size of the companies that have access to it now.
A Brief History of B2B Electronic Commerce
Although the B2B buzzword seemed to appear out of nowhere just a few years ago, business-to-business electronic commerce has been going on for over 40 years now. In the earliest incarnation of B2B, trading partners communicated with each other over telephone lines using a proprietary data format that they agreed upon. This method of doing business was revolutionary at that time, and it did help reduce the paperwork and minimize data transcription errors. Its obvious downside was that it was not very efficient for scale-up since data formats varied widely across trading partners. The advent of EDI in the 1960s was the first attempt at providing a standardized way of exchanging data between trading partners. Initially, these formats could be used only within a given industry. Only about a decade later did EDI become a widespread standard that was hardware independent and allowed the originator of the transaction to track the data payload and find out if and when the transmission was received by the recipient. Although several formats of EDI messages were developed and even survive today, two enjoy particularly wide adoption: X12 and the Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce, and Transport (EDIFACT).
Even in the early days of EDI, it was quickly realized that point-to-point communication between trading partners would be difficult to manage, not to mention expensive. This gave rise to the emergence of value-added networks (VANs) that provided a single channel to facilitate the B2B communication. The major benefit of this approach was that a company had to worry only about managing its link to the network, and the responsibility of secure delivery of the message and maintenance of the message's audit trail was delegated to the VAN. Of course, since individual VANs were not interconnected, all trading partners within any given industry had to flock around a particular VAN. With the development of interconnections between the VANs, trading partners exchanging data can now be connected to different VANs, although this does mean sacrificing a rigorous end-to-end audit trail of the data. Historically, EDI has been expensive to implement and, out of necessity, has involved the use of proprietary VANs.
The emergence of XML promised significant advances in B2B integration. This is because users can store or transmit structured data using this highly flexible open standard. Moreover, the use of XML requires no special infrastructure for data transport other than Internet connectivity. Also, with database vendors providing built-in tools for extracting data from and inserting data into RDBMS, it is easier than ever to use XML in B2B commerce transactions.
How XML and XSLT Fit into EAI and B2B Integration
As e-business has passed through several phases of maturity, B2B integration has steadily gathered momentum and is now being taken seriously by a vast majority of companies. B2B integration has the potential to streamline the business processes across the enterprise's boundaries, and therefore often offers a rapid ROI. You will probably agree that B2B is a natural extension of EAI: that is, information interchange between companies and rules-based data transformations between the disparate data formats that these companies may support. Hence, we will treat B2B and EAI in a similar way in the following discussion.
In the areas of EAI and B2B, there is a need for a common message broker architecture that can support, in addition to message persistence and routing, commonly used services such as rules processing and data transformation. Software vendors have made admirable advances in providing robust implementations of these services to solve complex business problems. However, in the absence of common industry standards, all too frequently they have come up with solutions that do not necessarily work well with each other. It is clear that there is a very real need for standards for data interchange, rules processing, and data transformation. Emerging standards such as RosettaNet, ebXML, and BizTalk have an important role to play in the realm of data interchange, and XSLT has the potential to be a standard tool for processing rules and performing data transformation.
Created: June 3, 2002
Revised: June 3, 2002