Ebuild: building on the foundations for ecommerce

The benefits of XML for me were in database [dynamic] driven content.  I never took an interest in ecommerce applications.  Until now.  I recently came across some press releases from BASDA [the British Application Software Developers Association] which stated that a new XML standard had been created in agreement with house-builders and suppliers.  Moreover in turns out that this agreement was one of the first, if not the first open XML standard in business in the UK. 

The XML standard is ebuild and is based upon eBIS-XML the BASDA standard, but has also been officially adopted by government departments in the form of the e-GIF schema. So it would seem that the construction industry, not particularly known for its innovation, is leading the way in terms of ecommerce. 

As anyone involved in ecommerce will know there are a host of ‘solutions’ to different document data types.  For company X and Company Y to trade electronically they need to speak the same language.  Of course most don’t.  Most use different terms to describe different things and some don’t specify certain details at all so orders and invoices can often have a great deal of mismatch due to human error [and this matters a lot for businesses when invoices aren’t paid and orders turn up incorrect].  Consequently ASPs [Application Service Providers] created solutions using closed standards like EDI [Electronic Data Interchange] which has have become very powerful as a  ‘translator’ of different document types [requiring the implementation of their own EDI translation software].  This translation comes at a cost, of course, and software companies can look to make a lot of money out of such a service, often calculating the cost based on savings made like postage, print, ink etc. 

Open standards also mean that companies can keep bespoke IT solutions [different companies have different needs depending on size, complexity of supply chain etc.] yet speak the same language.  It’s a breakthrough for ecommerce.  Implementing this XML will not be easy, I’m sure, especially for smaller companies for whom IT involves disproportionate training costs etc. relative to the possible gains to be had, but nonetheless it’s a big step.

The crux of maintaining a standard is to have trust in the governing body.  A non-commercial ‘neutral’ body like BASDA manages and regulates the ‘language’ resolving any disputes and agreeing on any revisions as arbiter.

XML is no panacea as tabilizer makes clear, but is the parameters for business are quite clear then it represents, as an open standard, a lot of clear benefits to the adoption of electronic administrative solutions for B2B.

So in all the hype around innovation in software and design I wonder if we’re losing sight of some real innovation in the small print of trade journals and in the grubby back streets of what’s left of industrial Britain?