European group chooses UBL for cross-border procurement standard

The Northern European Subset said UBL is the only specification that fits the need for an XML-based standard that covers the entire range of online procurement needs.

A group of Northern European countries has chosen a recently ratified version of the Universal Business Language (UBL) as the basis for cross-border electronic procurement transactions, with a view to making it the anchor of the European Union’s eProcurement platform.

The Northern European Subset (NES) chose UBL 2.0, approved by members of the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards last month, as the only specification that currently fits the need for an Extensible Markup Language-based standard that covers the entire range of online procurement needs from catalog to invoice.

The NES countries – Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Finland, with some contribution from the United Kingdom – are developing a northern European strain of the UBL 2.0 standard. The final version is expected by the end of February.

Denmark in particular has been a pioneer in XML-based procurement and in the use of the UBL standard. The Danish government expects to install a major service-oriented electronic commerce network nationwide by the end of this year to replace its current proprietary Electronic Data Interchange value-added network.

There’s been a Danish version of UBL since early 2005, and companies that sell goods and services to public institutions in the country have had to use the standard since then.

“In Denmark, we see UBL 2.0 as a backbone for the future of eProcurement, and we have already seen the first real [enterprise resource planning] implementation of the Danish customization of UBL 2.0,” Marie Munk, deputy director general of the Danish National IT and Telecom Agency, said at last month’s UBL 2.0 announcement.

NES sees UBL as a steppingstone to a unified eProcurement standard within the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business organization, and as the basis for a unified EU eProcurement standard.

To that end, it’s invited other European countries to join NES and intends to hold a workshop Feb. 15 in Brussels to inform other countries about its work.

Such a standard will be needed if the EU is to succeed in implementing its plans for a common eProcurement infrastructure by the end of 2010. The current road map calls for specifications for the platform to be finalized in the second half of 2009.

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