The Marriage of XML and EDI

Electronic Data Interchange has for many years offered the promise of connecting corporate systems internally and externally to share business data. With EDI, business can tap directly into vendor and customer inventory and ordering systems, automating and lubricating business processes.

The hype around Web services suggests XML schema will supplant EDI as the standard for business-to-business automation, but businesses with expensive EDI systems in place are hardly going to rip out a proven technology simply on the basis of Microsoft and others’ prognostications. EDI will stick around for years to come.

Smaller businesses are drawn to commodity software like Microsoft’s BizTalk Server, which enables business integration through XML. Given that, and with so many large enterprises with EDI systems in place, a market clearly exists for EDI-to-XML connectors that will allow EDI systems to talk to XML systems.

One company, Global eXchange Services, a subsidiary of General Electric Corp., offers a standalone product for getting EDI and XML to talk.

The GXS message broker sits between a legacy system and an XML system and converts the EDI fields to XML schema. It has adapters to talk to common business platforms such as SAP. General Electric offered traditional EDI services for enterprises, then spun off GXS as a separate unit to tackle the XML market.

Some software vendors offer XML transaction servers that enable administrators to convert EDI data to XML. CommerceSight from Enigma sits as an application integration layer between systems, converting data to XML. Enigma’s focus is end-to-end XML integration, and provides EDI functionality to that end.

Other companies that offer EDI functionality with XML transaction servers include Autonomy Corporation plc, Extricity, which was bought by Peregine Systems Inc., Software AG and VelociGen Inc.

Business needs seem to find open source projects as much as commercial products these days, and EDI-to-XML translation is no exception. The XML-Edifact project offers a Perl module for translating well-formed EDI documents into XML and vice versa. Unlike the commercial products, it’s freely available.

About the Author

Chris McConnell is Product and Technology Editor for Enterprise Systems.