ORLANDO -- Landmark e-commerce standards will be released in July as the result of a cooperative effort by leading international organizations that include the Uniform Code Council, Lawrenceville, N.J.
The standards are seen by many as one possible key link to enabling B-to-B e-commerce in the supermarket industry to live up to some of its promise.
Standards for XML -- eXtensible Markup Language -- were worked out by UCC and its international counterpart, EAN, along with other organizations including the UCCnet and the Global Commerce Initiative.
The completion of the project and the release date were announced during the UCC's U Connect Conference last month here by Ted Osinski, vice president, electronic commerce. "These are EAN-UCC standards, and they were developed with the users, by the users, with significant input from trade organizations such as the Global Commerce Initiative," he said.
This is the first set of UCC electronic commerce standards to be developed "from scratch," he said.
XML is a language used for defining data elements on Web pages and on business-to-business documents.
It is similar to the better-known HTML (HyperText Markup Language) used for most Web pages today, but XML is becoming the standard language of the Internet.
On July 1, the XML schemas, defining the rules and structure of transmitted data, will be released.
This will be a big step forward for any kind of business-to-business communication over the Internet, and likely will be an enabling function for the major exchanges to fulfill their promise
"This is truly a global standard developed by user consensus," Osinski said.
Under pressure from many parts of the industry to act quickly, the standards were fast-tracked.
"We initiated the XML strategy a year and a half ago, which we have now turned into the e-business program," Osinski said. "Our goal was always to develop and validate via global pilots.
"We ran the pilots and they were completed in January. Since January, we have been making refinements based upon the pilot results, and now it is reality," he said.
Among the participants in the pilots were Royal Ahold, Metro AG, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Transora, GlobalNetXchange and UCCnet.
The exchanges, including Transora, GNX and the WorldWide Retail Exchange, "are absolutely committed to implementing the standards. In fact, they are impatient. They are the driver behind the standards," Osinski said.
Although the UCC's goal is to make these standards applicable to all retail, the first XML schemas will be for the grocery industry.
"If you look back in history, the grocery industry has been first in adopting things like the UPC," said Terry Erman, UCC's director of marketing and public relations. "So the grocery industry will be among the first to embrace the XML standards," she said.
"We think that the supermarkets will take them, use them, build on them, and we will be supplying more and more global standards to them and other industries at a faster and faster pace," Osinski said.
Playing an increasing role in global e-commerce is the Global Commerce Initiative, which was formed in the fall of 1999 by 40 global retailers and their suppliers to "improve the performance of the international supply chain for consumer goods through the collaborative, development and endorsement of recommended standards and key business processes," according to GCI's Web site.
It differs from UCC and EAN in that it is a global user group, and not a standards-setting body.
"In the future, I think global will be a matter of integrated strategy, structure, standards and systems across customers, categories and geography," said Ralph Drayer, founder and chairman, Supply Chain Insights, Cincinnati, and a former Procter & Gamble executive.
"So it will be critical for companies to get connected with their trading partners and thus the importance of establishing global standards through industry efforts like the Global Commerce Initiative," he said.
"I really think we are seeing a tidal wave-like change overtaking global business, which is an irresistible force of communication called the Internet and the new global industry structure evolving in retailing and the consumer goods industry," Drayer said.
"GCI has built a collaborative interbusiness process that will endorse a recommended set of standards and best practices with worldwide application in order to provide benefits to all users, large and small, wherever they operate.
"This global approach will be developed and documented together with international standards organizations such as the UCC and EAN, who are important sponsors and supporters of the Global Commerce Initiative," he said.
Drayer cited several issues contributing to the decision to found GCI:
Multiple product descriptions and bar codes.
Multiple EDI standards for simple processes like ordering and payment. For example, Procter & Gamble had to use 14 different electronic data interchange standards to conduct business around the world, Drayer said.
Multiple intelligent tagging standards.
Multiple XML Internet standards.
Multiple efficient consumer response scorecards had developed around the world.
"So there was a clear consensus among this group with this relatively short list of priorities that something needed to be done, and that's really how the Global Commerce Initiative was launched.
"Since that time, other needs such as a global product classification, global product catalog registry and the need for a global Collaborative Planning, Forecasting and Replenishment standard have been identified and new GCI working groups have been established to develop these standards," Drayer said.
GCI also has learned that it must work fast, he noted.
"In less than three months after identifying the need for this new global XML standard to facilitate transactions over the Internet, GCI had developed XML transactions for a simple purchase order, new item introduction and invoice -- all by the end of last year," he said, noting that much of this work was done by the UCC.
"By the end of the year, we had successfully piloted those new transactions, and drafts of implementation guides were released this month," he said.
"This is not a standards body. It is a group of global users who are helping to facilitate the identification and adoption of global standards with the help of the UCC and EAN, and the trade associations.