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Follow up answers from the David R.R. Webber webcast

David R.R. Webber is the co-author of ebXML: The New Global Standard for Doing Business on the Internet. David is a cofounder of the XML/EDI Group and an acknowledged authority on XML. He lectures frequently in the U.S., Europe and Asia, has more than 20 years' experience implementing business systems in a broad spectrum of industries, and is a U.S. patent holder for advanced EDI software technologies.

David was gracious enough to answer over 20 questions that we couldn't get to during his recent webcast.

What is the relationship between the ebXML and the EAI?
Strong; the formal mechanisms ebXML enables complement the business use model of eAI systems. Especially because of the strong BP(business process) capabilities in ebXML, enabling integration at both the information content and process levels. What do you see in your crystal ball as far as the next generation of Web services five years down the road?
Do your technology ROI planning within the next 2 years. For five year planning you need to ignore technology and focus on architecture and business models. ebXML can help here with its neutral architecture designs. It sounds like a lot of standards are still missing, including security. Should I start to do Web services now?
Only if you have a compelling and immediate ROI. Certainly exposure beyond the firewall requires more robust security if you are exposing public interfaces. Private interfaces for low-risk content will still work for you today. Also consider a combined ebXML / WS deployment - where ebXML is carrying the secured content - and WS gives real-time information channels alongside that. Are Web services the next-generation EDI?
No! Absolutely not. Web services are mirroring the use and development of realtime EDI over the last ten years right now. But Web services are not equipped to replace traditional B2B EDI systems. Again, ebXML has been specifically designed for that purpose, and the bigger win is ebXML plus Web services combined. Isn't EDI a closed system and extremely expensive? I thought Web services would be replacing this type of costly integration?
EDI is actually very cost-effective when purposed well. That's why billions of dollars flow thru EDI systems annually. Web services today are not equipped to do formal fail-safe reliability that today's EDI systems provide. Notice too that ebXML is focused on bringing lower-cost EDI to small businesses. In any case, the success there is not simple protocols or technologies -- it is solution providers having a realiable messaging layer they can integrate cheaply. Leading EAI vendors are folding Web services capabilities into their products. When will Web services surpass EDI as the solution of choice?
EAI vendors are not using Web services to replace EDI. They are using them as point-to-point internal information channels. Why is all the proposed WS activity beyond the firewall? I see this as only 5-10% of current activity. (e.g, most is within firewall because of security concerns). Why the difference?
Not just security but also reliable delivery. Therefore, content beyond the firewall is very much query/push and low-risk demand driven interactions. There's a disconnect between proposed-use cases and what people are prepared to expose today. Then ebXML should be a first consideration to ensure reliable exchanges, with Web services providing unsecured real-time information channels. Is this an accurate statement: Use EDI when you need mostly computer-to-computer communications and Web services/XML for less-costly projects than demand more flexibility?
The key is real-time information needs. These tend to need flexiblity. EDI's strength is formal batch processes without short-term time constraints. Don't most EDI implementations follow the old-style hub-and-spoke method? Or is there more freedom now?
Both statements are true. The model is really determined by the business use. Some EDI exchanges are collaborative. Obviously Web services can add value to collaboration environments by providing real time information channels. Have you noticed major vendors avoiding talking about ebXML and mostly talking up Web services?
Depends on the vendor! You are going to see a lot more major vendors talking up their ebXML strategy in the next few months. Now that Value-Added Network operators are pushing Web services -- doesn't that mean that EDI's days are numbered?
No. In the same way those vendors have offered realtime EDI, now they have alternate protocols and means to extend that business model. Notice that the reason for EDI is NOT going away. EDI is becoming XML-based, but the underpinning is still very much that EDI model. Do you see device-embedded Web services any time soon?
Definitely. But for simple information service content thru PDAs. Once security and authentication is mature then more can be done. Perhaps two years out? David, is this really a shift that we saw in different paradigms from the '80s to today?
Benefits of XML have yet to be fully realized. Most people are still doing 80's style EDI - just with an XML veneer. XML has made things less static and rigid, but true agile information is yet to be realized. The implementation of ebXML payloads and registries will make the difference over the next two years. Are Web services a better fit than EDI for smaller organizations?
Only in so far as providing instant channels of downstream information -- the push model. EDI still drives the supply chain and formal reliable guaranteed delivery needs. I've read that the use of EDI is actually increasing. Would a small-to-medium sized company benefit from EDI or is EDI only for those deep pockets?
Correct. When there is an established EDI environment, especially in the supply chain -- people are continuing to extend their networks. XML brings value in systems that EDI struggled to fit because of dynamic content needs. Will Web services and EDI combine into some type of hybrid as Web services gains more steam?
All successful technology absorbs and adapts over time. Look at Visual Basic in its latest incarnations -- it looks like Java. A far cry from the original MS-DOS BASIC interpreter. The only shortcoming I see of Web services over EDI is security. Are the Web services security standards in place now? What's the status?
No. Then there is interoperability certification, guaranteed delivery and more. Much needs to done, and ebXML really is there now. Expect ebXML to fill this gap and Web services to be an adjunct of ebXML. Getting qualified EDI outsourcing is getting to be more of a problem. Yet Web services developers are fairly common, as they already have related experience. Isn't this a good time to consider moving to Web services, at least with pilot projects?
Developers may understand the XML and SOAP, but beware of their lack of e-business experience. Also, if your payloads are still EDI, you still need that experience somewhere. If you're already invested in EDI, what's the business case for starting the switch to Web services?
Real-time information flows to augment static systems -- ability to query status and availability, for instance, in real-time. Where is a good place to start integrating Web services within an existing EDI hookup? What should I be looking for?
Please see the previous answer. Can EDI and Web services live together? Any reason they wouldn't behave?
See the answer above. Augmenting EDI with Web service information channels certainly makes sense to add value to your partners' environments. Can Web services handle vendor-managed inventory like EDI?
See answer above on combining with advantage EDI and Web services, batch and real-time mechanisms.

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We have an initial EDI implementation now but even this was costly. Instead of proceeding with the full blown EDI project, I'm rethinking a less costly solution with Web services. What is the downside to Web services?
Web services cannot do guaranteed delivery. You still need your EDI systems for that today.

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