BizTalk Gains Momentum as Microsoft Garners Application Support
When Microsoft Corp. unveiled its BizTalk initiative in early March, a number of industry watchers were skeptical of the company’s ability to execute on many of its forward-looking announcements. After all, Microsoft hadn’t unveiled anything substantive yet, had it?
In recent months the software giant has looked to deliver on its promises by partnering with a number of application vendors and eXtensible Mark-up Language (XML) developers. As a result, BizTalk may now be poised for broader industry acceptance, shedding an initial perception of vaporware.
Michael Putnam, an Internet commerce analyst at the research firm Forrester Research (www.forrester.com), was not alone when he expressed skepticism after Microsoft’s BizTalk and e-commerce announcements. "It is vaporware in the sense that they don’t have anything yet, and because they’re saying that a lot of these things are going to be just going into beta in six months," Putnam said at the time. "But [the strategy] did seem to be concise and seems to be indicative of a real focus on Microsoft’s part."
Microsoft, however, came out swinging in early March. The company announced an agreement with ERP vendor PeopleSoft Inc. (www.peoplesoft.com), which selected BizTalk and other Microsoft technologies as a means to develop "key elements" of its PeopleSoft Business Network (PSBN), an electronic business network that delivers applications and content to end users through an enterprise portal.
In April, Baan Co. (www.baan.com) announced its E-Enterprise suite for business-to-business Internet commerce that is made up E-Sales, E-Collaboration and E-Procurement. Each part links to Baan's existing business applications and run on the Microsoft Site Server platform. E-Enterprise leverages Baan's support for Microsoft's BizTalk network.
Then in May, Microsoft secured the cooperation of ERP kingpin SAP AG (www.sap.com), which announced at its Sapphire User Conference in Nice, France, that it planned to leverage the BizTalk XML framework in conjunction with its SAP Business Framework as a means to interconnect Microsoft’s MSN online service and its own recently unveiled mySAP.com enterprise portal. Both Microsoft and SAP also used the occasion to underscore their collective commitment to support both BizTalk and the SAP Business Framework.
According to Ron Rappaport, an Internet industry analyst at research firm Zona Research Inc. (www.zonaresearch.com), Microsoft’s involvement with and support of major ERP players such as SAP and PeopleSoft suggest that XML is on the verge of mainstream acceptance in the industry, and that Microsoft is ahead of the curve with its BizTalk initiative.
"The technology vendors have realized the value [of XML], and businesses are just starting to. We’re still early on the adoption curve, but we’ve moved really swiftly along the early part along the past six months," Rappaport comments. "And when a vendor like Microsoft introduces its BizTalk initiative and puts XML at the heart of it, that’s something that is noteworthy. You can bet that a lot of software vendors are going to take note of it."
In the area of BizTalk and XML, Microsoft seems to be suppressing its trademark embrace-and-extend philosophy in favor of interoperability with other XML vendors to further the XML standards process as a whole.
In early May, for example, Microsoft notched a significant partnership in this regard when it announced an agreement with Ariba Inc. (www.ariba.com), a provider of intranet- and Internet-based e-commerce solutions. The companies will work together to accelerate the adoption of XML-based standards for e-commerce.
According to Tim Minahan, a senior analyst in electronic commerce at Aberdeen Group (www.aberdeen.com), the Microsoft-Ariba accord is big news for XML standardization. "They’re working together to meld the two XML standards because Ariba had backed its own XML standard, a proprietary standard called Commerce XML that it’s been trying to push," Minahan explains. "They recently entered into an alliance with Microsoft to make it more of an open standard that can operate with BizTalk and through BizTalk with other instances of XML [implementations]."
Both Microsoft and Ariba announced that they will work together to integrate Ariba’s Commerce XML with BizTalk to define a schema for communicating e-commerce transactions, such as catalogs or online orders. The two vendors also indicated that they plan to support each other's e-commerce frameworks in their respective product offerings.
Aberdeen’s Minahan, for one, thinks Microsoft’s spate of technology partnerships with application vendors may have scored points for both BizTalk and XML. "Microsoft said that they’re not going to push the standard on their own but incorporate the views of the industry and application providers, and we’re seeing that with the Ariba deal," he says. "So we may see a sort of ‘Me, too’ attitude going on right now that rightfully or wrongfully may drive broader adoption of XML as a standard."