Information access is the key for business survival in the Information Age. In order to conduct business-to-business trading over the Internet, there is the need to easily share information. Businesses face numerous challenges when it comes to sharing information. Data exists in a variety of formats and there is no universal standard for sharing this data with others. Many businesses have even deployed applications within their company that cannot easily share data with each other.
There have been technologies and efforts in the past to try to solve this problem.The most well known of course is EDI (Electronic Data Interchange). EDI is a set of specifications for ordering, billing, and paying for parts and services over private value-added networks (VANs) linking dissimilar computer systems.
EDI is used by organizations for many of the same reasons that we are using to build the case for BizTalk Server 2000.The main problem with EDI, however, is that it has always been very expensive to implement, and relatively complex, so it really has been limited to just the largest organizations and their partners. EDI is also based on 1980s technology.
You might ask, isn't this what XML was supposed to fix? Isn't XML the universal language of business now? Well, yes and no. XML does provide a way to truly exchange meaningful data between business partners. The problem is that it provides no guidance on the structure of these messages. For example, one business partner might like to have a FirstName field separate from the LastName field on a purchase order, but the other business partner prefers just to have a FullName field. XML can describe in great detail the documents that each of these partners has created, but we have a fundamental problem of inconsistent document structures.
This is where BizTalk comes in. BizTalk is not just a product, but also a set of initiatives for facilitating application integration within and across organizations. BizTalk uses XML to provide a way to describe the schemas for XML messages and the technology to help you route these XML messages and process them as the messages are transmitted from business to business. The BizTalk initiative comprises:
■ BizTalk Framework 2.0 A set of guidelines put forth from a broad group of businesses on how to define messages to enable e-commerce building on top of existing standards such as XML and the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP).The BizTalk Framework 2.0 provides the basis for interoperable reliable messaging in BizTalk Server 2000.
■ BizTalk.org A Web site where people can learn more about the initiative and, more importantly, a public schema library where people can post their schemas for the business documents they are working with, such as invoices and purchase orders. For example, if you want to send a purchase order electronically what is the preferred schema that they use for their purchase orders?
■ BizTalk products These products provide support for BizTalk Framework 2.0. BizTalk Server 2000 is Microsoft's implementation of a server product for the Windows 2000 platform that provides for this support. However, the framework is written such that an application can be constructed on any platform using any programming language to support the capability to send, process, and receive BizTalk messages.
This initiative hopes to solve the problems of the past, using new technologies and specifications to truly enable application integration for the masses.
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