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EDI to XML: A Practical Approach

Accessing or creating EDI messages as XML

While EDI transactions account for most worldwide commercial activity, XML-based alternatives are beginning to gain traction. According to Forrester Research, stateful XML, stateless XML, and even flat file exchanges are all projected to grow at a faster rate than EDI over the next few years. The firm predicts stateful XML transactions will be required for a growing number of B2B process-oriented transactions and are projected to exceed the growth of EDI transactions over the next five years.

This article discusses how today’s B2B support infrastructures must be designed to take advantage of both new and old technology to meet the full range of an organization’s external integration needs and support process improvement efforts across the entire value chain. This article illustrates how to use XQuery and XSLT on non-XML data – bridging the legacy gap using technologies currently deployed and showing how EDI and other legacy formats can co-exist with XML for maximum gain.

How Things Were
One of the challenges that B2B infrastructures have to face is making multiple business partners communicate with each other, “understanding” what the information they’re trying to exchange is and what it means. It’s not a new problem; human beings after all started facing this issue long before software platforms came into being.

In the mid-’90s, when B2B infrastructure started becoming relevant, vendors cleverly thought that agreeing on standards describing the messages being exchanged through the B2B platforms would be useful; that’s why EDI became popular; EDI provided a well-defined, compact way to exchange messages, providing self-contained information about what the message is about (an invoice, purchase order, health care enrollment request), and where inside the message the relevant information is (here’s the list of ordered items, here’s the address where to ship the merchandise, here’s the name of the member).

That’s why large EDI standards like X12, EDIFACT, IATA, HL7, Odette, and SWIFT came out, each of them controlled by a specific standard body, each of them with their little syntax peculiarities, each of them interpreted slightly differently by each vendor; but still, standards!

More Stories By Carlo Innocenti

Dr. Carlo Innocenti is senior XML program manager at DataDirect Technologies (www.datadirect.com), responsible for the overall strategy and direction of the XML products group including DataDirect XQuery (www.xquery.com), DataDirect XML Converters (www.xmlconverters.com) and Stylus Studio.

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