Napster for B2B

I have atiny manufacturing business called Bend Motors. So far, I have produced nearlyone vehicle with a goal for this year of no more than three. The vehicle,code-named Shredder, is unique -- it's lightweight, electric, three-wheeled,and has the ability to lean into turns like a motorcycle. While the Internettruly made Shredder possible, it did not make it easy. That will be the job ofa new business-to-business service standard from IBM, Microsoft, and Aribacalled Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI).

Throughoutthe development of the Shredder prototype, I dealt with dozens of suppliers andservice providers. Because Shredder uses parts from the domains of automobiles,bicycles, motorcycles, go-karts, and electric vehicles, finding the right partswas challenging. As a new manufacturer with no experience or connections --hundreds of miles from the nearest metropolis -- a supplier’s Web-front was theonly interface readily available to me. I estimate that I spent over 300 hoursin parts research and acquisition, mostly because I did not have access to aWeb-based catalog of suppliers with their products, services, and tradingrequirements. UDDI plans to fill this void while improving electronic supplychain integration.

Thecomplementary technologies of XML and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) makeit possible for businesses to use and provide Internet services to any businessrunning on any platform. As compelling as SOAP services might be, how to makethe business community aware of your services and instruct the developmentcommunity to use your services has been heretofore unspecified. For example,UPS offers an easy HTTP interface to its shipping cost calculator. Describingthis service on a technical Web site takes time, as does providing thetechnical resource to answer questions on the interface. Of course, you may noteven know that UPS has an interface at all -- although UPS has an excellenttechnical Web site. In many cases you’d have to call the business, and I’mbetting you won’t hear, “Press 4 for a description of the Web-based services weoffer.”

UDDI buildson top of SOAP and XML to provide a consistent way for businesses to describeand publish their Web-based services. These services might include productcatalogs, part availability, purchase order, or some yet-to-be-inventedservice. The UDDI framework includes four core elements, each described withinthe UDDI XML Schema:

*BusinessInformation describes Yellow-Pages-compatible business information, such asname, address, and business category.

*ServiceInformation describes the categorized services offered by the business,including the Internet address at which to call the service.

*BindingInformation describes the information required to invoke a service.

*ServiceSpecification Information provides additional specification information,including references to the standards to which the service conforms.

In additionto providing a standard for describing Web services, the founders of UDDI alsoprovide a directory of registered services. Like the popular music tradingsoftware Napster, UDDI provides what appears to be a single global directory ofbusinesses and services which is available to any Internet user. However, likeGuntella, another popular file swapper, the UDDI directory is distributed andreplicated to ensure uptime. Like these popular peer-to-peer services, UDDIsimply provides the catalog that allows peers to connect. The services areprovided by the participating businesses, not by the UDDI directory providers.Finding MP3 files before the advent of Napster and kin was possible, justexceedingly time consuming. An exhaustive search for a song might take 30minutes and not provide a result. An equivalent search on Napster takes twoseconds. A similar scale of improvement is possible for Web services usingUDDI.

UDDI, asdescribed today, does not fill the role of a business marketplace or searchengine. While many businesses may provide UDDI services to make these twoparadigms easier to implement, it will remain the job of the aggregator toprovide a friendly interface to a group of related businesses. Writing abusiness service crawler that can compile all parts meeting certain criteriawill be far easier when businesses provide a consistently named servicefollowing a popular specification. In other words, it will take a while for thebenefits of UDDI services to trickle down to Bend Motors.

Eachproposed industry standard fights a battle for acceptance. With three bigplayers owning the standard and commitments from Andersen Consulting, CommerceOne, Compaq, Internet Capital Group, Great Plains, SAP, Sun Microsystems, andVerticalNet, UDDI should gain wide acceptance. While college kids won’t likelyfight to run its services on their machines, UDDI may quickly become as popularand useful as Napster within the B2B community. --Eric Binary Anderson has led projects at a number of enterprisesoftware companies and is the senior architect at IBT Financial (Bend, Ore.),an Internet-based training company. Contact him at