Net transactions: A style guide

Universal Description, Discovery and Integration Web site

It's not every day that industry heavyweights like IBM Corp., Microsoft

Corp., Ariba Inc., Dell Computer Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. agree to

work together on an Internet-related initiative. But when the project results

in a better way of conducting business transactions over the Internet for

everyone involved, there's no shortage of camaraderie.

There's also little doubt that an initiative with such extensive support

will make its way into the government space, and the Universal Description,

Discovery and Integration (UDDI) standard should eventually do just that.

UDDI is a standard that organizations will be able to use to describe

their services and how they prefer to conduct e-commerce. Organizations

usually exchange such information — for example, what e-commerce services

they support through their Web sites — when they begin discussing online

initiatives.

UDDI makes it possible for organizations to cut a loop out of that process.

Key information about participating organizations will be available in an

online UDDI Business Registry. UDDI proponents believe the standard will

shorten the time it takes for organizations to form partnerships and begin

conducting business.

UDDI looks at the problem of how two organizations can communicate with

each other without prior knowledge of what services they support and how

to work together, said Keith Hurwitz, principal technology specialist at

Microsoft Federal Systems. "This is about HST: hooking stuff together,"

he said. "It will make e-commerce easier."

UDDI uses a variety of standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium

and the Internet Engineering Task Force (see box).

Although UDDI is still being introduced into the private sector, it

should affect the government in the future, said Larry Allen, executive

director of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

Current government e-commerce programs, such as the General Services

Administration's GSA Advantage, require companies to put their information

into a specific electronic format, which can be very costly, complicated

and time-consuming, Allen said.

UDDI appears to eliminate a lot of that work, making it possible for

companies to maintain the information in the manner that makes the most

sense to them, while GSA and its customer agencies would be able to access

it in a manner that makes the most sense for government users.

"The cross-platform capability could save a lot of time and effort,

if adopted in the government marketplace," Allen said, adding that GSA in

particular stands to benefit from UDDI.

UDDI also could help the U.S. Postal Service compete better with commercial

companies, said Robert Sutor, program director for e-business standards

strategy at IBM.

"If I'm building an e-commerce site and look at my choice of shipping

options, there's the Postal Service, UPS and FedEx. But I have to talk to

all the players in different ways to ask each company how much it costs,"

Sutor said. "UDDI will allow all the shipping organizations to be able to

respond in the same format and integrate shipping information into their

Web sites in a uniform way."

Sutor said there are currently numerous options for finding required

business information online, but there are also myriad protocols and ways

of doing them. He said the "automatic access" to necessary information is

missing, and UDDI will provide it.

Eventually, agencies could use UDDI to form registries of services internally.

For example, the FBI, the CIA and the Defense Department could use such

a registry to track background searches on potential hires.

"The same way you would use UDDI for a public registry for business

information, you could make a private registry to let other agencies know

you have background information on people," Sutor said. "There would be

some duplication of functionality and some slight differences, but you'd

have a uniform interface."

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