While businesses are by definition collaborative (in the sense, that every transaction has a buyer and seller), the way businesses have been run has been very individualistic. Every enterprise, small or big, has its own ways and means of managing its people, products, accounts, customers, partners and suppliers. Like fingerprints and snowflakes, no two businesses are alike.
What this means is that a lot of time is spent in defining and implementing business processes. While the big businesses may be justified is using their unique business mechanisms as a source of competitive advantage, for many small and medium enterprises (SMEs), figuring out the right business processes (concomitant with the right information flows and activity sequences) can be a source of pain a kind of trial-and-error until one gets it reasonably right.
This is what is about to change. For the past few years, many industry consortia have been working together to define business process standards. One of the factors which has made this easier has been the increasing adoption of XML for data and document interchange between enterprises.
Among the various business process standards initiatives, the one which is perhaps the most significant is RosettaNet. By its own definition, RosettaNet is a non-profit consortium of more than 400 of the world’s leading Information Technology (IT), Electronic Components (EC), Semiconductor Manufacturing (SM) and Solution Provider (SP) companies working to create, implement and promote open e-business process standards.By establishing a common language — or standard processes for the electronic sharing of business information — RosettaNet opens the lines of communication and a world of opportunities for everyone involved in the supplying and buying of today’s technologies. Businesses that offer the tools and services to help implement RosettaNet processes gain exposure and business relationships. Companies that adopt RosettaNet standards engage in dynamic, flexible trading-partner relationships, reduce costs and raise productivity. End users enjoy speed and uniformity in purchasing practices.
While RosettaNet may seem to have a focus on just a few industries, the standards it is developing can work across industries, especially for SMEs. RosettaNet defines PIPs (Partner Interface Processes), which are specialized system-to-system XML-based dialogs that define business processes between trading partners. Each PIP specification includes a business document with the vocabulary, and a business process with the choreography of the message dialog. PIPs apply to the following core processes: Administration; Partner, Product and Service Review; Product Introduction; Order Management; Inventory Management; Marketing Information Management; Service and Support; and Manufacturing. Of special interest is the set of standards covered by RosettaNet Basics, a set of core PIPs that help in simplifying implementation for the smaller enterprises.
A recent development is RosettaNets merger with Uniform Code Council Inc., best known for introducing the bar-coding system to the retail world. Together, they hope to hasten the adoption of B2B integration standards by organisations worldwide.
Taken together with Web Services which enable the creation of software components, the activity in the standardisation of business processes will streamline intra- and inter-enterprise interactions dramatically in the coming years, laying the foundation for real-time enterprises. The opportunity is greatest for the SMEs who can now use existing libraries of processes to connect into the supply chains of their larger customers.
Tech Talk: Web Services and Business Processes (June 5, 2002)
Next Week: Techs 10X Tsunamis (continued)