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Subject: Re: [ubl-csc] DRAFT UBL FAQ

i like it - well done Jon!

jon.bosak@sun.com wrote:
Hello UBL Chairs and Marketing Subcommittee,

OASIS recently added a "FAQ" menu item to each of its TCs and has
requested each TC to provide content with which to populate these

Attached is a first draft of the UBL FAQ that I committed to write
up for this a few weeks ago.  Please review this and get back to
me with any changes or additions.

Unless I hear some huge outcry over this, I intend to send in
whatever I manage to get put together out of the next few days'
worth of input so that we've got SOMETHING at the end of our FAQ
link (http://www.oasis-open.org/committees/ubl/faq.php).  Then we
can continue to augment and modify this at our leisure.




Draft for UBL MSC/CSC Review, 13 September 2003

  1. What are the goals of UBL?

    The goals of the UBL Technical Committee are as follows:

    • To create a Universal Business Language (UBL) that will standardize common business data structures and allow businesses of all sizes to enjoy the benefits of electronic commerce.
    • To develop UBL in harmony with the OASIS ebXML specifications and in light of recommendations and standards issued by ISO, IEC, ITU, UN/ECE, W3C, IETF, OASIS, and other relevant standards bodies and organizations.
    • To align the vocabulary and structures of UBL with the vocabulary and structures of existing XML business libraries.
    • To establish liaisons with leading industry data exchange organizations in order to ensure the usability of UBL in a variety of trading contexts.
    • To vest ownership of UBL 1.0 in OASIS, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to the adoption of structured information standards, and to make it freely available to everyone without licensing or other fees.
    • To promote UBL to the status of an international standard for the conduct of XML-based electronic business.
    • To develop a standard context methodology for the automated customization of UBL to fit different business environments.
  2. What does UBL intend to deliver?

    The primary deliverables of the UBL TC in the UBL 1.0 time frame include:

    • A set of Naming and Design Rules for the representation of ebXML Business Information Entities (BIEs).
    • A UBL BIE library in the form of standard XML schema elements for common business data structures such as "party," "address," and "line item."
    • A set of basic business documents assembled from the BIE library, such as UBL Order, UBL Receipt Advice, and UBL Invoice.
    • A set of formatting specifications for the rendering of the basic business documents in human-readable form.
    • Guidelines for extending UBL within specific industry contexts.
  3. Where does the "BIE" terminology come from?

    It comes from ebXML, a nonproprietary international electronic commerce framework developed in partnership with the United Nations and maintained in a set of OASIS Technical Committees (see ebxml.org). The ebXML framework is being adopted by a growing number of governments and industry organizations as the basis for the next generation of business-to-business (B2B) and supply chain management (SCM) systems. UBL originated from the need to define a standard document format for ebXML messages.

  4. Is UBL part of ebXML?

    Historically, UBL was developed in order to provide the document schemas for ebXML, but ebXML and UBL are not formally connected. It is easy to imagine UBL being used in a wide range of possible XML-based business frameworks other than ebXML.

  5. Let me rephrase that question. Is UBL going to be the vocabulary for ebXML business documents?

    UBL can be (and was designed to be) a business vocabulary for ebXML, but ebXML can also be used with other business vocabularies as well. In fact, ebXML can in theory be used to exchange traditional EDI messages (X12 or EDIFACT), though we don't know of anyone actually doing this.

  6. Will UBL be used with ebXML or not???

    It can't be denied that the combination of UBL and ebXML is a great foundation upon which to build a completely open, standard, vendor-neutral platform for the world's electronic commerce. The fact that UBL and ebXML are both owned by OASIS doesn't hurt, either.

  7. Why do we need UBL? Aren't there already a number of XML vocabularies for business documents?

    That's exactly the problem -- there are too many of them. And most of them are optimized for a particular vertical industry or application domain, leading to an enormous interoperability problem for real-world businesses that have to work with partners in multiple industries.

  8. Why are multiple messaging formats a problem?

    Several reasons.

    • Developing and maintaining multiple versions of common business documents like purchase orders and invoices is a huge waste of effort.
    • Writing and maintaining multiple adapters for multiple XML business schemas is a huge waste of effort.
    • The existence of multiple XML formats makes it much harder to integrate XML business messages with backoffice systems.
    • The need to support an arbitrary number of XML formats makes tools more expensive and trained workers harder to find.
    • Only a single publicly owned standard can serve as a legally binding form for common business documents.
  9. What are the advantages of a single standard for XML business messages?

    The main advantages of a single format are:

    • Lower cost of integration, both among and within enterprises, through the reuse of common data structures.
    • Lower cost of commercial software (software written to process a fixed XML tag set is much easier to develop than software that can handle an unlimited number of tag sets).
    • Easier learning curve (just a single library).
    • Lower cost of entry and therefore quicker adoption by small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs).
    • Standardized training, resulting in many skilled workers.
    • A universally available pool of system integrators.
  10. This sounds too good to be true. Don't different business contexts require different versions of the same basic business documents?

    Yes and no.

    In many small-business environments, standard forms can indeed satisfy business requirements well enough to be used without modification. The existence of standard paper forms proves this. In these environments, UBL can work right out of the box.

    It is true, however, that different industries have different data requirements, and this has led in the past to the proliferation of variants even in such tightly controlled standards as X12, EDIFACT, and RosettaNet.

  11. How does UBL solve the problem of multiple versions?

    UBL has both short-term and long-term strategies for dealing with the need to create variations of basic data structures tuned for different business contexts.

    The short-term (UBL 1.0) strategy is to provide guidelines for the manual extension of the generic UBL data models. It is expected that industry data exchange standards organizations will create their own versions of the UBL documents according to their expert understanding of the needs of each industry. The contribution of UBL at this stage will be to radically reduce the cost of document creation and to maximize code reuse to the fullest extent practical.

    The long-term (post-1.0) strategy is to create a technology for the automatic creation of specific document types based on the particular business context in which they are to be used. UBL intends to build on the ebXML identification of key context drivers (business process, industry, regulatory environment, etc.) in developing this context methodology.

  12. So UBL is just a collection of basic business forms?

    No, it is also (and more importantly) a library of reusable data components from which an unlimited number of other documents can be constructed. It is expected that groups of business experts will construct these other documents based on the UBL library for use in specific domains such as taxation, transport, customs, resource planning, and so on.

  13. Who owns UBL?

    UBL is owned by OASIS, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the open development of public XML standards. UBL is being developed by an OASIS Technical Committee made up of XML and business experts.

  14. How much will it cost to use UBL?

    UBL is royalty-free.

  15. When will UBL be ready for use?

    The OASIS UBL TC is nearing the end of a two-year-long project to complete UBL 1.0. An initial set of the basic UBL schemas, data models, example instances, stylesheets, and supporting materials was released for public review in January 2003 as UBL 0.7. In May 2003, the UBL data models were substantially revised in light of many comments received during the three-month 0.7 public review period, and the revised data models, designated UBL 0.8, were then put through a two-month review by teams representing RosettaNet, the Open Applications Group, and the OASIS eGov TC. Input from this review has been incorporated into the UBL data models, and the TC is now beginning the generation of the XML schemas for UBL 1.0 Alpha.

    After internal technical review of the 1.0 Alpha schemas, expected to end in mid-October, the TC will prepare a full set of example instances, stylesheets, ASN.1 specifications, documentation, and UML class diagrams to accompany the data models and the normative schemas. Release of UBL 1.0 Beta for public implementation testing is scheduled for the beginning of November 2003, and completion of UBL 1.0 is scheduled for February 2004. The release of UBL 1.0 as an OASIS standard will provide a royalty-free set of XML schemas, presentational specifications, and supporting documents that we hope will become universally adopted as a legal basis for electronic commerce.

  16. What do you mean by "legal basis for electronic commerce?" Aren't all data standards equal in this regard?

    No. Electronic documents such as purchase orders and invoices are not just sets of parameters; they express the legal intentions of their senders. In an environment characterized by a relatively small number of large-scale EDI-like trading relationships, such intentions can be expressed in one-off out-of-band legal agreements. But in a larger marketplace involving an arbitrary number of players, intention can be expressed only within a fixed and universally understood semantic framework. To put it simply, the meaning of a commercial document exchanged in a global environment has to be understood the same way everywhere because the agreement it expresses has to be enforceable everywhere.

  17. How will UBL attain the status of a legally recognized XML vocabulary for electronic commerce?

    The UBL TC strives to work within the framework of international standards that we believe should govern electronic trade. For example, the UBL Forms Presentation Subcommittee has been working closely with the UN/ECE eDocs initiative to ensure that the UBL schemas and stylesheets conform to UN document layout standards. The UBL Library Content Subcommittee has worked closely with the UN/CEFACT Core Components team to ensure strict adherence to the Core Components Technical Specification, to which UBL has been a major contributor. And the UBL Naming and Design Rules Subcommittee has worked with UN/CEFACT ATG2 to align XML schema design principles.

    The objective of UBL from the beginning has been to provide the world with standards for the electronic versions of traditional business documents designed in a way that recognizes established commercial and legal practices. Since December 2001, UBL has been on the standing agenda of the ISO IEC ITU UN/ECE eBusiness MoU Management Group, of which OASIS is a nonvoting member. This group manages relationships regarding electronic business standards among the organizations referenced by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). OASIS is also a Class A Liaison to ISO TC 154, which is responsible for the international standardization of electronic document syntaxes such as EDIFACT. It is our intention to submit UBL to ISO following its approval by OASIS in the first quarter of 2004.

  18. What does UBL have to say about the standardization of business processes?

    UBL has very little to say about process definition.

    In order to reduce the task of ecommerce standardization to manageable proportions, UBL strongly differentiates the data standardization problem from the process standardization problem. UBL focuses on the standardization of business data as the first step toward global ecommerce integration and leaves the standardization of business processes to the user communities represented by organizations such as RosettaNet, OAG, and UN/CEFACT.

  19. Doesn't this leave process definition somewhat ambiguous?

    It leaves initial process definition implicitly defined by our existing commercial, legal, and regulatory institutions, to be supplemented by the more formal process definitions just beginning to emerge from industry domain organizations.

  20. This doesn't sound like the optimum end state for electronic commerce.

    UBL is not intended to provide the Grand Unified Theory of electronic commerce. It's just intended to provide the logical next step forward for our existing system of trade.

  21. That's not very elegant.

    Successful evolution is like that.

  22. What are the possible larger implications of a standard XML tag set for business documents?

    The World Wide Web was created through the combination of a fixed tag set for hypertext publishing (HTML) and a transfer protocol designed for the same purpose (HTTP). The combination of a fixed tag set for electronic business (UBL) and a transport protocol designed for the same purpose (ebXML messaging) may create an explosion of business opportunities in the same way that the web technologies created an explosion of publishing opportunities.

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tim mcgrath
phone: +618 93352228  
postal: po box 1289   fremantle    western australia 6160

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