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To Be or Not to Be: The Ideology of E-Commerce Standards

by Debbie Wilson  |  November 18, 2011  |  Comments Off on To Be or Not to Be: The Ideology of E-Commerce Standards

I have had the pleasure today of participating in the Digital Momentum e-procurement conference held in Reyjkavik, Iceland.   The agenda for the conference, which was sponsored in part by Evenex, has been about e-procurement and e-invoicing.  Speakers included the Iceland Minister of Economic Affairs, an executive director of Reykjavik University, and a director from PEPPOL.  Two Danish case studies were presented.   

One very interesting sub-topic  has been to what degree standards (such as EDI) should be developed and enforced in a country to fuel and support business to business e-commerce.  Almost every speaker touched on this issue – and for some such as PEPPOL it was the main subject.  Some speakers positioned standards as a waste of time and an obstacle to development, while others advocated that standards are crucial and must be created.  Discussion on this topic continued hot and heavy over lunch and breaks.  

One thing is for sure – standards fuel interoperability between technology vendors, and interoperability makes multienterprise e-commerce more scalable for suppliers and it facilitates competition.  I was dragged (kicking and screaming – at least inside!) into this subject when I proposed my master’s degree thesis a little over a decade ago.  The subject of my study was indirect procurement automation.  I had wanted to look at what was then brand spanking new tools from Ariba (remember ORMS?), CommerceOne and Netscape –  and evaluate their prospects in the market.  As luck would have it, my advisor was an active member of the European EDIFACT (the equivalent of EDI in the US) standards board, and he approved my thesis on the condition that I reframe it as whether EDI/EDIFACT are suitable standards for indirect procurement.  My attitude towards EDI this way was not too positive – and that attitude was affirmed by the many field interviews  I did with businesses in the thick of implementing e-procurement tools.    Long story short – fast forward many years later – we actually HAVE ended up with some standards – namingly  the punch-out standards cXML and OCI.  These standards have data format portions, like EDI – but added in process steps/permissioning to allow users to shop catalogs.

The point is that trying to boil down to a single universal standard for commerce  – anywhere or for any type of spend – is probably fairly futile.  Witness the failed OBI initiative of the same vintage of my master’s thesis.  But without SOME common formats – whether standards-body developed or developed by a vendor – like cXML (Ariba) and OCI (SAP) are – multienterprise commerce DOES require some common elements to work.


Deborah R Wilson
Research Vice President
8 years at Gartner
15 years IT industry

Deborah Wilson, a Gartner research vice president, covers procurement strategies and applications. Her areas of interest include procure-to-pay, e-marketplaces, e-sourcing, spend analysis, services procurement and supply risk assessment. Read Full Bio

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