Netfish Unveils XML Business-to-Business Solution

When it comes to providing application support across multiple platforms, Extensible Markup Language (XML) has been grabbing a substantial share of the attention recently. In late September, Netfish Technologies Inc. (www.netfish.com) tossed its hat into the XML ring, unveiling Netfish XDI, a business-to-business platform that the company says can tie together disparate applications across an enterprise.

XML was generally accorded "it" status when Microsoft Corp. took the wraps off of its BizTalk XML framework in early March. At the time, the software giant made much of the potential of the extensible markup language (XML) as a means to provide a "glue" of interoperability between heterogeneous systems.

"Everyone always looks to Microsoft to some extent before deciding which way the traffic is flowing, and this is definitely a switch by MS by being out ahead of the curve by putting their stake in the sand early," says Tim Minahan, senior analyst in electronic commerce at Aberdeen Group (www.aberdeen.com).

Netfish XDI uses XML’s glue-like potential to connect to ERP systems from both Oracle Corp. and SAP AG (www.sap.com), among others. Netfish converts documents such as purchase orders, advance shipping notices, and invoices on-the-fly into XML. Once rendered into XML, the documents can be processed automatically in accordance with predefined workflow, business logic, or other business rules.

But Netfish XDI really shines as a replacement for existing electronic data interchange (EDI) solutions, company officials maintain. Netfish XDI allows standard ANSI X.12 EDI documents to be converted into Netfish XDI’s XML format for exchange with other XML-based systems.

Some may question XML’s applicability in EDI environments, but Bob Bickel, senior vice president of product marketing at EDI specialist Bluestone Software, acknowledges that the technology can represent a natural enhancement to existing EDI solutions.

"XML makes EDI much more cost effective, so that smaller companies can for the first time exchange data inexpensively and relatively painlessly with larger organizations," Bickel says.

Written in Java, Netfish XDI consists of both client and server components, along with a standard development suite. As a move to entice customers, Netfish says that it will freely distribute its Netfish XDI client, which works with Netfish XDI’s centralized server component to facilitate the translation, delivery, and workflow of documents across disparate platforms.

The Netfish XDI Developer Suite provides integration and mapping tools so enterprises can convert ERP business objects or EDI documents into XML messages. The Netfish XDI Developer Suite is being used to supply connectors to SAP and Oracle ERP environments, and will provide connectors to ERP systems from J.D. Edwards & Co. (www.jdedwards.com), Baan Co. (www.baan.com), and PeopleSoft Inc. (www.peoplesoft.com) in the future.

Gary Kinghorn, director of marketing at Netfish, says Netfish XDI’s reliance upon open technologies such as XML and Java improves its overall integration capabilities.

"Netfish has delivered the industry’s leading B2B integration solution because we have designed exclusively from the ground-up around two complimentary technologies designed with interoperability and the Internet in mind -- XML and Java," Kinghorn says.

While traditionally cautious, analysts are generally bullish on XML’s prospects for providing integrative services and tying heterogeneous systems together.

"Aberdeen believes that XML technologies have the ability to provide support for open application integration, allowing disparate systems to interoperate with one another," Aberdeen’s Minahan says.