Most of these protocols rely on eXtensible Markup Language (XML). With XML, tags travel with the data—not unlike a dog-tag or license plate—to identify what the shared data represents.
Most of the heavy lifting in BPI is done by application servers such as WebLogic Server from BEA. These servers are a collection of software programs that provide a link between the Web and the back-end, or legacy applications, that need to talk to one another, as well as offer security, load-balancing and other services.
Finally, there are Web services such as Microsoft's .NET that facilitate inter-system communications via the Internet on a secure permission basis. Such services could, for example, automatically search a supplier exchange to place an order for goods, negotiate a price and request authorization to confirm the order (or go ahead and place it with preset pricing parameters), based on pre-defined business rules.
As an example of what can be done, W.W. Grainger uses WebMethods, an XML-based application server, to connect its two business-to-business marketplaces—Grainger.com and OrderZone.com—to the company's SAP R/3 ERP application, which it uses for inventory management to support real-time information on pricing and availability of products. WebMethods also connects Grainger to other b-to-b marketplaces as a supplier.
Catalog Systems Options
A number of vendors of catalog- management systems have included modules in their applications suite that accomplish similar goals. CommercialWare (www.commercialware.com) makes good use of IBM's Websphere, while Ecometry (www.ecometry.com) has developed its own, universal data interchange component written in C and C++ that uses a proprietary talker/listener methodology to exchange data between the order management core and modules for e-commerce, campaign management, merchandise forecasting and database analysis. There also is some support for XML and Java interfaces for data exchange with external applications.
An independent vendor, Marketing Concepts (marketingconcepts.com), developed a middleware module in C++ and C# for Ecometry that provides a more open, fully enabled XML interface on an SQL Server platform to link Ecometry to any XML-enabled or SQL-compliant application.