Remember the promise of the paperless office? Computers communicating electronically with one another were going to replace the tons of paperwork that characterized business-to-business interaction: purchase orders, invoices, payments, confirmations, documentation. The list was nearly endless. Electronic document interchange (EDI) was going to be the savior of our systems and protector of our forests.
It didn't happen. EDI never met the challenges of connecting scores of proprietary and mission-critical applications. Now, a new successor is stepping up to the challenge.
RosettaNet is both a set of standards and a global consortium of more than 500 electronic component, IT and semiconductor manufacturing companies working to create, implement and promote open e-business process standards. Founded in 1998, RosettaNet aims to align specific business processes among trading partners by defining and standardizing up to 100 e-business transaction processes so that two companies' back-end systems can talk directly to each other.
RosettaNet takes its name from the Rosetta stone, which a soldier in Napoleon's army discovered in Egypt in 1799. Since it contained parallel inscriptions in both Greek characters and Egyptian hieroglyphics, it provided a key to deciphering ancient Egyptian writing.
This modern electronic translator speaks the contemporary languages of computer interoperability—XML and SOAP—which should allow disparate systems and business processes from different organizations to understand and exchange data with one another.
The consortium began its Herculean task by looking at supply chain processes. Members used business-process modeling to identify the elements of a working business process and create a clearly defined model of current trading partner interfaces. After extensively researching every level of the supply chain, as well as analyzing misalignments and inefficiencies, they developed a set of generic, standardized processes that could serve as the basis for real-world business-to-business alignment.
These Partner Interface Processes (PIP) are specialized system-to-system, XML-based dialogues. Each PIP specification includes a business document and a detailed business process that includes interaction, data transmission, security and error-handling requirements.
PIPs use two data dictionaries—one for business properties and another for technical properties—that help different companies define the same product in exactly the same way. The RosettaNet Implementation Framework defines an exchange protocol, and the Message Guidelines instruct implementers on how to encode individual PIPs into specific packages.
Such efforts at standardizing generic processes have been tried before and failed. RosettaNet, however, seems more carefully grounded in the real world, and its PIPs are tested by consortium members. After consortium partners have agreed through a voting process that a PIP meets industry needs, it is then published on the RosettaNet Web site and is available for anyone to use.
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