Integrators see expanding market for XML

Extensible markup language is fast growing beyond its military roots as commercial sectors begin to face issues long common to armed forces departments.

Joe Gollner, president of Ottawa-based XML integrator XIA Information Architects Corp.,

says the adoption is being driven mainly by the need for speed as well as increasingly complexity and the realities of the global market.

He says the stream of accounting irregularities at Enron Corp. WorldCom Inc. and other large corporations in the United States have caused increasing demands for disclosure. And that mountain of information has to be accessed quickly, leaving no time for data conversion.

“”The best thing about XML is that it’s based on open standards,”” Gollner says. Unlike that of proprietary systems, XML data can easily be repurposed for other applications, which explains its growing appeal in industries like health care, pharmaceuticals and financial services.

“”You no longer want to put your info in jail with some software where you have a lot of issues to repurpose,”” says Danny Boulanger, president and CEO of Montreal’s InterDoc Corp. “”Unless you are with XML, it’s impossible.””

InterDoc and XIA are two of four new partners of Arbortext Inc., the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based provider of XML-based multi-channel publishing software. Arbortext, which a year ago opened its first Canadian office in London, Ont., announced the partners in late June as a means of offering more robust support to Canadian enterprises.

If the 300 per cent growth InterDoc says it has realized in the first six months of this year are any indicator, the demand is clearly there. Boulanger says there is a booming market for repurposing data on the Web, on intranets and on handheld devices like personal digital assistants (PDAs).

“”It’s all because people want to structure the unstructured information,”” he says. “”I would think because of ERP and CRM, a lot of people realize the value in integration.””

Indicating a growth in XML interest from commercial sectors, InterDoc counts biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, finance and manufacturing, but not military, among verticals it serves. Military contracts are still a large part of XIA’s business, according to Gollner, who notes that the family of technology that includes XML and SGML was developed to meet the needs of, and was bankrolled largely by, the U.S. military. Open standards have greatly helped communications with allies.

“”A lot of military developments projects are multinational; nobody wants to design a new ship alone nowadays,”” Gollner says. “”So everyone throws their money in the pot.””

That means the work is spread among participating countries and manuals and related documentation have to be translated into different languages. The same diffusion reality now faces many large corporations.

Both Gollner and Boulanger like Arbortext software because it is robust and because it uses style sheets that are in the public domain. Still, XML implementations do come with their own challenges.

“”XML is all about sharing data among different platforms,”” Gollner says. “”By virtue of that fact, it gets much more challenging when you open up the arena and let in all sorts of players. The biggest challenge is weeding through the standards and possible standards.””

He says new users often end up spending more money and make solutions more complex than they need be.

“”It looks simple, but you can make things very complex,”” he says.

Boulanger adds integrating XML with content management software provides its own challenge.

“”Managing content and managing documents is a different beast,”” he says. “”I think there’s a learning curve there.””

As for XML, more widespread adoption into the B2B area faces resistance from large corporations that have already implemented their own proprietary systems. Electronic Business XML (ebXML) has been touted as a saviour for small and medium-sized businesses whose e-business plans have been stunted by the complexity of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI).

“”If you’re Boeing and you have invested 10-15 million in EDI systems, you don’t want the market to change that,”” says Boulanger, who is optimistic about XML’s eventual success. “”It will take a few years but they have to move on. XML is much bigger.””

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