Standards will touch e-hubs, marketers alike

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An emerging collection of technical standards promises to change forever the way marketers do their jobs by automating how businesses interact.

The question is: Will this automation cut marketers out of the mix?

One of the most recent and important of these proposed standards is called universal description, discovery and integration. Based on extensible markup language, UDDI seeks to set a standard way for e-businesses to define themselves on the Internet.

Some view specifications like UDDI as a threat to e-marketers, and say branding and marketing strategies will be lost when the next generation of e-commerce permits machines to talk to machines and automatically enable transactions.

But UDDI proponents say it does not aim to override traditional marketing efforts but rather provide a basic infrastructure, on top of which future b-to-b marketing initiatives will ride.

‘‘The fact that Ford has registered isn’t the end of their marketing efforts. It’s the beginning,’’ said Boris Putanec, Ariba Inc.’s VP-corporate strategy.

Putanec and others compare UDDI to the Web’s domain name service--the underlying technology that translates Internet protocol addresses into fam-iliar domain names. On top of DNS is an entire infrastructure of Web sites, search engines and other services that actually make up the World Wide Web.

In the same way, Putanek predicted, the so-called ‘‘business Web’’ will rely on UDDI to make basic connections. But it also will spawn search engines, e-marketplaces, aggregators and new companies to help businesses find each other.

‘‘There will be an art to listing your company’’ in the UDDI database, but it will represent just the tip of b-to-b marketing efforts, Putanek said.

UDDI uses a White/Yellow Pages metaphor, under the belief that each business is best at defining its own listings.

Indeed, b-to-b e-commerce would be significantly crippled without something like UDDI, said Gartner Group Inc. analyst Daryl Plummer. ‘‘Where multiple businesses and multiple marketplaces are trying to interact, a mechanism to locate software services and share those services must exist,’’ he said.

‘‘Two years from now, we’ll look back on this day and say this was the event and alliance that kicked off the ability of businesses anywhere in the world to move their businesses to the Internet,’’ said Larry Mueller, Ariba president-COO, at the media event announcing the UDDI agreement last week.

The UDDI initiative comes amid efforts at defining XML-based standards to grease the b-to-b tracks.

Last week, for example, a group of companies working on ebXML, a project to standardize the exchange of electronic business data, said it had created a team to standardize electronic contracts and trading partnerships using XML.

The ebXML group--a joint initiative of the United Nations and Oasis, an XML standards body--aims to define so-called TPAs, or trading partner profiles, and agreements. TPAs move beyond mere supplier look-up and define detailed technical parameters necessary for two companies to conduct transactions over the Internet.

Because IBM provided much of the early work on TPAs, the project may intersect with UDDI at some point.

A consolidation of XML standards would be welcome. Despite XML’s promise of simplifying electronic conversations between businesses, a number of XML ‘‘standards’’ are standard in name only.

For instance, both Ariba and Commerce One Inc. have used XML to create a method for describing products in their procurement catalogs. But the two company’s methods are still incompatible.

In contrast, there seems to be broad industry backing of UDDI.

Ariba, along with IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp., proposed the UDDI standard and will be the first to roll out UDDI-supporting databases. The vendors promise to have their first UDDI products ready within 30 days.

But a total of 36 companies have signed on to back the venture.

Commerce One, which plans this week to announce a major content and catalog strategy that will have it hosting multimillion product catalogs around the globe, said it will add UDDI as soon as it can.

Meanwhile, e-marketplaces in different industries have embraced XML in recent weeks.

What remains to be seen is whether all of these XML standards, and other emerging e-business practices from the exploding world of e-marketplaces, will work together or create confusion.

Backers of the UDDI hope they have defined a broad standard that will serve b-to-b as well as DNS, HTTP and HTML have served the Web in general.

‘‘With UDDI you have a standard way of interrogating the system to understand what business a [potential partner] is in and what services they might provide,’’ said Paul Martiz, group VP at Microsoft. ‘‘It lets you extend the net of who you can trade with more broadly.’’

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