Revolutionary UBL ratified as OASIS standard

The Universal Business Language, which defines an XML library of eight common business process documents, is now an official OASIS standard.

Tuesday's ratification of the Universal Business Language (UBL) as an OASIS standard has revolutionary implications

for the business world, said UBL technical committee chairman Jon Bosak.

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Read this commentary on the advent of UBL

The spec defines an XML library of eight common business process documents making up the invoice-to-order procurement process, including purchase orders and invoices.

"The tasks are straightforward, taking existing EDI and paper processes and putting them together in XML formats," said Bosak, XML architect at Sun Microsystems and founder of the first XML technical committee while at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). "It's not hard to understand. The impact of the existence of these things could be profound. It could nucleate a whole set of developments."

Bosak compares the arrival of UBL to that of HTML more than 10 years ago.

"When HTML appeared, everyone was using elaborate markup languages," Bosak said. "With the appearance of HTML -- many thought it was too simple to work -- the advancement of single markup language more than made up for its limitations. A single thing to learn was more important than all of limitations."

The tasks are straightforward, taking existing EDI and paper processes and putting them together in XML formats.  The impact of the existence of these things could be profound.
Jon Bosak
UBL TC chairOASIS

The UBL technical committee took three years to arrive at this week's ratification, settling on the documents that satisfy the most basic electronic transaction.

Bosak hopes the standard helps small and medium businesses make the transition from paper commerce to electronic commerce without having to invest significant dollars in EDI. EDI is a standard format for exchanging business data, usually confined to large enterprises doing business across national borders.

"If you look at EDI, you'll find 40 or 50 documents types --a whole world of possibilities," Bosak said. "There are a whole range of things before and after a payment scenario. We have not gone there yet. That lies in future.

"When we started … I got a good look at Rosetta Net [a set of e-business standards and services] and was astonished to find how many users implement only a couple of those documents," Bosak said. "OK, this may be small set of possible set, but it will be interesting to see what percentage of actual use we've nailed."

UBL is the first standard implementation of the ebXML Core Components Technical Specification, OASIS said in a release. EbXML, or Electronic business XML, was ratified as an ISO standard earlier this year. It uses XML to securely exchange business data. It supports existing Internet standards, and can run on any platform providing an infrastructure that guarantees data interoperability, semantics that ensure commercial interoperability and mechanisms that enable trading partners to find each other, according to online encyclopedia whatis.com.

"EbXML does nice job abstracting business processes into a separate set of specs," Bosak said. "Although we work with ebXML, UBL also should work with anything else that works with message-based B2B transactions. We work with WS-* architecture of Web services standards. In fact, it would be very difficult to see how any SOA would work without UBL."

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