What Does XML Mean To You?
When it comes to sales, the extensible markup language probably means very little right now. But this important collaborative commerce technology is coming. How can you prepare?
If you read the trade rags (and I'll assume you do - after all, you're reading this), you've probably read all about collaborative commerce and XML (extensible markup language). We pundits love to extol the virtues of cutting edge technologies. However, as resellers, you are likely generating most of your revenue in more mundane ways. While XML and collaborative Web commerce may represent the future of document management, the present consists of client/server line-of-business document storage, retrieval, and workflow.
"Most of our channel still implements client/server, Windows-based document management systems," says Dan Lucarini, VP of marketing for document management software vendor IMR (Englewood, CO). "That being said, we're investing heavily in XML. At first, XML will probably be only used in huge e-commerce systems. Eventually, it will trickle down to become the common interchange format for all types of data."
XML Is Not A Complete Bridge
What does XML do? XML is being promoted as a standard format to enable information exchange between diverse systems and applications. "There is a misconception that XML is the complete answer for data interchange," says Mark Andrews, director of product marketing for software developer Venetica (Charlotte, NC). "XML is part of the answer. However, once data is transferred from one system to the other, it still needs to be formatted so that it can be utilized by the receiving system. There are still some data mapping issues that need to be addressed."
Not surprisingly, Venetica develops software designed to solve these mapping issues. Originally, Venetica created its software to act as a bridge connecting different vendors' document management repositories. "Now, we're being pulled into collaborative and B2B (business-to-business) applications where documents need to be exchanged between multiple repositories," says Andrews.
Vertical Focus Key To Managing Collaborative Applications
Venetica is currently creating an "electronic deal room" for a large investment company. The e-deal room provides a single point of access where several divisions within the investment company can share information about potential investments. Each of these divisions could be using a different document repository. Documents from outside sources like law firms and companies being considered for investment can also be downloaded into the e-deal room.
Andrews says that VARs adding XML and collaborative technology to their offerings should be aware of a change in their installation landscape. "Traditionally, document management installations have addressed a single line of business, like accounts payable or insurance claims," he says. "To enable e-commerce, not only are you asked to tie together several lines of business within the same organization - e.g., purchasing, inventory, and manufacturing - you are also going to be asked to tie businesses together with their partners and suppliers.
"The best way to do this is through a dedicated vertical focus. With line-of-business document management applications, you could afford to be more horizontal. When dealing with B2B applications, each vertical market has a different set of systems and processes that needs to be integrated."
When Your Customers Are Ready, You Should Be Too
How does a VAR know when its customers are ready for XML and collaborative commerce applications? "You need to pay close attention to what your customers want," says Lucarini. "We recently had a large customer ask us for a completely Web-based system. However, after we questioned them, we realized their needs were best met by a client/server system running on a WAN (wide area network).
"XML offers a great deal of richness and functionality to Web-based applications, but not everyone is ready for it. As a VAR, you want to keep in touch with your customers' IT guys and systems analysts. When they are ready for XML, you should be too."
Follow Phased Implementation Approach
Lucarini adds that it is not easy for a reseller to ramp up to XML and collaborative commerce applications. "Using XML can be complex," he says. "It requires a good deal of knowledge about Web servers, integration with Web portals, and how to program with XML. Our repository accepts XML data, but it assumes our resellers know how to use XML programs."
Andrews adds that VARs considering implementing XML and collaborative solutions should start slowly. "Use a phased approach," he says. "Customers gain the most by installing the correct e-commerce infrastructure. After that, they can gradually deploy front end processes, so they won't disrupt their business."Questions about this article? E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.