On May 1st, UBL 1.0 hit the streets; today, Jon Bosak is in Hong Kong launching the marketing push. UBL is a set of general-purpose XML-encoded business documents: orders, acknowledgments, packing slips, invoices, receipts. I’m not a UBL expert, but I have two good arguments that say it’s likely to be important and successful.
History · UBL is the fifth generation of work in this space, dating back to the original “CBL” in 1998. A lot of work has gone into this, and—this is important—a lot of that work was done by business-people, not computer geeks.
Bosak · I said I had two arguments as to why this is important: The first I’m relaying from Jon Bosak, the second is Jon himself.
Jon’s argument is this: UBL, a fixed set of documents, is immensely less flexible than the grand composable visions of the people building the “WS-* stack.” But We’ve seen this movie before; we tried for years to build hypertexts across the network based on the infinite flexibility of SGML. Tim Berners-Lee ignored that flexibility and trotted out a fixed set of tags that were just good enough to get the job done: HTML. Thus, the Web explosion.
Does the UBL/HTML metaphor hold? I don’t know, but I’m not sure I’d want to bet against it.
Then there’s Jon himself. If you’d decided, as an investment strategy, to back all the technologies Jon has been mixed up in since 1990 or so you’d look like a genius. He was in the tech-doc group at Novell and got the idea that they should deliver the NetWare docs electronically rather than on paper. Result, huge savings, massively better usability. Then, he went to Sun and repeated the trick. Then, he founded and chaired the XML working group. Since 1999 or so, he’s been working on ebXML and UBL.
Just another piece of evidence that this might be highly unsafe to bet against.
I’ve reproduced below an email from Jon about the 1.0 release:
UBL TC members and observers, It is my great pleasure to announce that UBL 1.0 has been approved as an OASIS Committee Draft by the OASIS Universal Business Language Technical Committee and is now available for general use. The UBL 1.0 Committee Draft is located at http://docs.oasis-open.org/ubl/cd-UBL-1.0/ A compressed archive containing the entire release is available for local installation from http://docs.oasis-open.org/ubl/cd-UBL-1.0.zip UBL 1.0 represents six years of continuous development in the creation of a standard XML business syntax, the last two years of which have taken place in the OASIS Universal Business Language Technical Committee. The UBL Committee Draft incorporates more than a year of public review, and the final result is now ready for implementation in commercial and open-source software efforts. UBL is freely available and may be used by anyone without the payment of royalties or other fees. BACKGROUND Since its approval as a W3C recommendation in 1998, XML has been adopted in a number of industries as a framework for the definition of the messages exchanged in electronic commerce. The widespread use of XML has led to the development of multiple industry-specific XML versions of such basic documents as purchase orders, shipping notices, and invoices. While industry-specific data formats have the advantage of maximal optimization for their business context, the existence of different formats to accomplish the same purpose in different business domains is attended by a number of significant disadvantages as well. - Developing and maintaining multiple versions of common business documents like purchase orders and invoices is a major duplication of effort. - Creating and maintaining multiple adapters to enable trading relationships across domain boundaries is an even greater effort. - The existence of multiple XML formats makes it much harder to integrate XML business messages with back-office systems. - The need to support an arbitrary number of XML formats makes tools more expensive and trained workers harder to find. The OASIS Universal Business Language (UBL) is intended to help solve these problems by defining a generic XML interchange format for business documents that can be extended to meet the requirements of particular industries. Specifically, UBL 1.0 provides the following: - A library of XML schemas for reusable data components such as "Address," "Item," and "Payment" -- the common data elements of everyday business documents. - A small set of XML schemas for common business documents such as "Order," "Despatch Advice," and "Invoice" that are constructed from the UBL library components and can be used in a generic order-to-invoice trading context. - Support for the customization of UBL in specific trading relationships. A standard basis for XML business schemas is expected to have the following advantages: - Lower cost of integration, both among and within enterprises, through the reuse of common data structures. - Lower cost of commercial software, because software written to process a given XML tag set is much easier to develop than software that can handle an unlimited number of tag sets. - An easier learning curve, because users need master just a single library. - Lower cost of entry and therefore quicker adoption by small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). - Standardized training, resulting in many skilled workers. - A universally available pool of system integrators. - Standardized, inexpensive data input and output tools. UBL is designed to provide a universally understood and recognized commercial syntax for legally binding business documents and to operate within a standard business framework such as ISO 15000 (ebXML) to provide a complete, standards-based infrastructure that can extend the benefits of existing EDI systems to businesses of all sizes. UBL is freely available to everyone without legal encumbrance or licensing fees. UBL schemas are modular, reusable, and extensible in XML-aware ways. Designed as an implementation of ebXML Core Components Technical Specification 2.01, the UBL Library is based on a conceptual model of information components known as Business Information Entities (BIEs). These components are assembled into specific document models such as Order and Invoice. These document assembly models are then transformed in accordance with UBL Naming and Design Rules into W3C XSD schema syntax. This approach facilitates the creation of UBL-based document types beyond those specified in this 1.0 release. The UBL 1.0 specification describes the basic order-to-invoice business process that the UBL document types are designed to support. To aid in deployment, the standard UBL schemas are accompanied by a multitude of informative supporting materials, some of which are included in the UBL 1.0 package as informative appendices and some of which are available from referenced sites. These materials include: - UML class diagrams of the document components on which the schemas are based. - UML class diagrams describing all the document assemblies. - Spreadsheet models defining the document assemblies. - Descriptions of two example implementations. - Sample instances of each of the UBL documents used in those two implementations. - Formatting specifications for rendering all of the documents in the example use cases. - Formatting specifications for the United Nations Layout Keys corresponding to each of the UBL basic business document types. - An ASN.1 specification to enable the transmission of UBL messages in binary form. NEXT STEPS IN GLOBAL UBL DEPLOYMENT To promote international adoption, OASIS UBL localization subcommittees have been formed to translate the UBL specification into Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish. When complete, this localization work will make UBL readily usable for more than two-thirds of the current global online population. The next UBL TC meeting, to be hosted by Hong Kong University 10-14 May 2004, will set the work schedule for UBL localization, continue to further refine the technical basis of UBL, and begin to develop a process for the creation of industry-specific UBL profiles. A detailed agenda for the meeting in Hong Kong can be found at http://lists.oasis-open.org/archives/ubl/200404/msg00231.html Persons wishing to attend upcoming UBL TC meetings should contact the UBL TC chair, Jon Bosak (firstname.lastname@example.org) and UBL TC vice chair, Mark Crawford (email@example.com). FURTHER INFORMATION For further information regarding UBL, see the OASIS UBL TC web page at http://www.oasis-open.org/committees/tc_home.php?wg_abbrev=ubl A free public mail list for the discussion of UBL is available for subscription through the OASIS mail manager at http://www.oasis-open.org/mlmanage/ The ubl-dev archive is located at http://lists.oasis-open.org/archives/ubl-dev/ To join the UBL TC or propose the formation of a new UBL localization subcommittee, contact the chair at the address above. Jon Bosak Distinguished Engineer, Sun Microsystems Chair, OASIS Universal Business Language Technical Committee