Partnership joins up XML, EDI

Electronic data interchange vendor OAO Corp. and electronic forms provider JetForm Corp. last month announced they will integrate their respective technologies to make it easier for organizations to conduct electronic commerce transactions.

Under the agreement, users will be able to fill out and submit JetForm's intelligent Extensible Markup Language-based forms online and send them for processing via the Internet using OAO's EDI technology.

XML is a World Wide Web-enabled version of Standard Generalized Markup Language, a language for tagging data so that it can be read by different end-user applications. Unlike Hypertext Markup Language, the most common format for Web documents, XML allows files to be structured in different ways, making it easier to present a form the way it was designed.

As part of their partnership, the companies will develop a transparent EDI bridge between OAO's Easy Mix technology and JetForm's XML Forms Architecture (XFA), providing a seamless interface between XML and EDI and making it easier for smaller organizations to take part in EDI without the expense usually associated with it, according to the companies.

Any agency using a JetForm file that needs to process a form by sending it directly to another machine "can use our EDI on the back end to do that," said Delores "Dee" Smith, director of systems development and e-commerce at OAO.

"Agencies don't need a value-added network or expensive translators by using our Web EDI. We've eliminated the cost and made it simpler for small- and medium-sized businesses to [use] EDI. I'm even finding large organizations doing businesses with VANs say, 'maybe I'll take a look at this.' "

The deal with OAO "legitimizes where we have gone with our XML strategy," said Joe Sampson, national manager for JetForm's state and local government business. "Now both federal and state agencies can get into what I would think is an accelerated [adoption] of the [Government Paperwork Elimination Act]. Both state and federal agencies have to figure out how to do more with less. This is one way to do that."

JetForm's XFA enables agencies to capture signatures from digital forms, a key capability to comply with GPEA, a 1998 law that mandates federal agencies to do business with citizens online.

EDI involves the computer-to-computer exchange of information and takes people and paper out of the process. EDI manages structured data, whereas XML is a more flexible method of communicating data.

"Once you move EDI into XML you can send [data] over the public Internet," said David Baltaxe, an analyst with Current Analysis Inc., Sterling, Va. "That allows companies to find much cheaper methods and more efficient methods for passing information around."

Organizations that have an existing EDI infrastructure that also want to take advantage of the Web will be most likely to move to a hybrid XML/EDI environment, Baltaxe said.

"If I've been using EDI for many years and invested millions of dollars on it, I want to continue to use it," Baltaxe said. "But if I want to leverage it for new solutions, I can just layer XML based systems on top of [an EDI infrastructure] or in front of it and continue to use EDI."

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