Industry execs discuss EDI's place in an XML world

EDI lives and .Net cannot be ignored, said industry executives and audience members at a panel session on Monday.

Officials from companies such as Oracle Corp., SAP AG, and Siebel Systems Inc. were asked by audience members to explain the advantages of XML-based integration technologies compared to EDI-based integration. They also were criticized for being heavily focused on Java. The executives were participating in a panel discussion on J2EE, XML, Web services, and enterprise application infrastructure at The Yankee Group Integration Technologies Forum, "Leveraging Web Services & Integration Technologies for Maximum Business Value."

One attendee questioned why standards development would be better or different in XML or the traditional EDI world.

"We're going to have to have XML standards for business transactions themselves, things likes ordering a rail car," the audience member said. "It's an issue of business semantics, not technology."

Panelist Jeanne Baker, director of product strategy at Sterling Commerce, said EDI remained valid. Upon the introduction of XML, criticism of EDI as a "dead man walking" was "probably a little premature," Baker said.

"It's not that XML is superior to EDI, but what we should do is take advantage of the fact that everybody is interesting in playing this game," as far as supporting XML, she said.

XML differs from EDI in that when EDI was developed, users wrote their own ERP systems, said panelist Andrew Dent, CTO at Hubspan. "Now, the battle lines are really drawn at the protocol stack layer, not at the business layer," Dent said. The EDI X12 format offers a semantic format that should not be ignored, he said.

Mohamad Afshar, principal product manager for Oracle 9iAS server technologies at Oracle, said that to fuel the adoption of XML technology Oracle is trying to drive technological standards so that business standards have a common base.

Siebel's Bharath Kadaba, vice president of the universal application network, stressed that standards development has accelerated dramatically with XML and Web services when compared to the five-year development period that it took for standards to emerge in the 1980s.

"Certainly, the XML and SOAP standards have evolved very quickly," Kadaba said.

Another attendee asked where Microsoft's .Net development platform fit into the equation, given the board's emphasis on Java-based technologies.

Sinisa Simek, director of technology architecture and standards at SAP, said Java simply has a jump on .Net, being around for seven years as opposed to three for .Net. But he expects .Net to draw more attention in the next three years. Clients are demanding both, he said. Siebel's Kadaba concurred that IT shops will be using both technologies.

Panelist Bernard Gracy, vice president and general manager for professional services at Pitney Bowes, said his company was supporting both, and took a jab at SAP.

"Unfortunately, I can't be like SAP. I can't dictate what our customers do," Gracy said.

Sterling 's Baker stressed that interoperability is key, but added that .Net is primarily a Windows PC-based platform.

Oracle's Afshar criticized .Net as being a single-vendor platform. ".Net really only runs on Windows," he said. "For the data center, you're certainly looking at J2EE."

Afshar also criticized what he believes is the lack of availability of .Net systems.

"From a purchase perspective, there is only one vendor that sells .Net and that is Microsoft. Well, they don't sell it yet," Afshar said. "Interoperability is key but we really believe J2EE is the way to deliver both data center applications and applications at the edge of the enterprise."

Also appearing at the conference were:

-- Reed Cundiff, senior vice president of enterprise software services and infrastructure at The Yankee Group, who said increased competition would wreak havoc on independent EAI and EDI vendors. Cundiff predicted that only two of the "big four" EAI vendors -- Tibco, Vitria, webMethods, and SeeBeyond -- would survive beyond 2003. "The others will need to find suitors to be able to go to the altar with," he said, alluding to merger and acquisition possibilities. Cundiff also said that Web services rollouts would happen at mainstream user sites in 2004-2005 and that 2003 would see major increases in Web services pilot implementations.

-- Jon Derome, program manager for business applications and commerce at The Yankee Group, who said only two business-to-business infrastructure vendors and two application-to-application vendors would be able to thrive in the marketplace.

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Paul Krill

InfoWorld

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