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Denmark builds XML-based Web services commerce network

Attendees at the XML 2006 conference in Boston got a sneak peek into Denmark's proposed e-commerce network, which will leverage a slew of Web services standards, XML documents and service-oriented principles.

Boston – A return to the heady notion of business-to-business integration was featured during a session yesterday at the XML 2006 conference. The Danish government plans on instituting a massive service-oriented e-commerce network by late 2007 that will generate Universal Business Language (UBL) 2.0 business documents such as purchase orders and invoices for both public and private sector transactions.

It should be as easy to send a business document electronically as it is to send an e-mail.
Mikkel Hippe Brun
Chief ConsultantDenmark's Center for Service-Oriented Infrastructure

In addition to the XML-based UBL documents, the system will leverage Web services standards like SOAP 1.1, UDDI 3.0, WSDL 1.1, WS-Security 1.0 and WS-ReliableMessaging. The system will replace a proprietary Electronic Data Interchange value-added network (VAN) currently used by the Danish government to conduct business, saving on exorbitant per-kilocharacter data transformation costs and opening up the e-commerce network to any business with a Web connection.

"It should be as easy to send a business document electronically as it is to send an e-mail," said Mikkel Hippe Brun, chief consultant for Denmark's Center for Service-Oriented Infrastructure, part of the national IT and telecom agency.

The new system will be required to handle more than 200 million transactions a year, offer a national services registry and be held up to Danish businesses as a standard Web services reference model for secure, reliable and authenticated transactions.

Yet the project has run into a major hurdle in getting its Windows toolkit, based on .NET 3.0 and Windows Communication Foundation, to interoperate with its Java toolkit, based on Apache initiatives like Axis 2.0, Rampart and Sandesha.

"It has proven very difficult to get full interoperability between these two platforms," Brun said. "It's cost us extra hundreds of thousands of dollars for something that should have been there out of the box."

Brun anticipates the interoperability nut will be crack in a few more weeks, with the challenge of building a good external registry beyond it.

"We haven't seen any good examples worldwide of registries being used between organizations," he said.

Yet, despite the difficulty of putting together this sort of e-commerce network, Brun says the benefits should be massive, saving the government as much as $265 million with as much as $930 million in savings for private sector users. He said an attempt earlier in the decade to have VANs handle electronic invoices proved costly and faced numerous technical obstacles such as unskilled developers, immature infrastructure, unvalidated messages and messages sent to non-existing invoices.

All of that from a system that the majority of private businesses couldn't access.

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"Most everyone has the Internet," Brun said.

The governmental approach in Denmark also differs greatly from the private sector initiatives in the U.S. For instance, the WS-I profile, which the Danish project will be leveraging, was put together by user organizations, but hasn't been able to keep up with the rapidity of changes in the Web services/SOA marketplace. Brun added that the government has the clout to create a reference model that the private sector will adopt.

"We're doing what Wal-Mart is doing in the U.S., saying here are the ways you can interact with us," he said. "Only the government reaches into more industries."

According to Brun, 10 companies are testing the infrastructure at this moment and a full pilot will start in March. By October, the network should be ready to launch. After that he anticipates expansion into healthcare, records management and corporate tax reporting.

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