Secure Transport of EDI and XML for Trading Exchanges

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Secure Transport of EDI and XML for Trading Exchanges
D. Geller - August 3, 2000

Event Summary

IPNet Solutions, Inc. specializes in solving the dirty little secret of e-commerce: having different data formats at different partner sites is a significant barrier to business success. IPNet's software provides a hub through which messages to and from partners and the exchange pass; inside the hub IPNet's products do all the necessary translations and data mappings.

IPNet also supports IBM's MQ Series message based connections. IPNet uses XML as its internal medium of data recording and exchange, and can translate between this internal XML and whatever formats are used by the partners, including other flavors of XML, EDI and legacy systems. IPNet products also support transaction management functions. In addition to licensing its software to market operators IPNet also offers its products on an ASP basis.

IPNet announced that it has released support for the AS2 security standard in version 3.2 of its eBizness Suite. Formally known as "HTTP Transport for Secure EDI," AS2 is a draft internet standard for exchanging structured business data in EDIFACT, X12, XML or other formats using the HTTP transport protocol. AS2 supports authentication and privacy through either of S/MIME or OpenPGP as well as HTTPS/SSL, and extends the previous standard (AS1) by allowing for multipart MIME messages, both synchronous and asynchronous replies, and the inclusion of acknowledgments and additional data within replies.

IPNet's eBizness Suite integrates three separate products:

  • eBizness Transact: rules-based transaction routing of business objects and documents

  • eBizness Order: catalog ordering, including availability, pricing, and credit checks

  • eBizness Collaborate: collaboration across the supply chain

The company also offers professional services and consulting, and claims to be the only one of its kind that works with its client throughout the business cycle, "from collaboration to buying decision to transaction." Its products are used within both supply chains and marketplaces.

Market Impact

Connecting companies into a supply chain or trading exchange is much easier than getting data to flow smoothly. Many companies hope to find a niche within this problem space. IPNet is a leader among independent companies, and implementation of AS2 is useful both for adding value for its customers and for showing that is continues to be a technical leader.

This particular technical advance won't remain a differentiator for too long. As an emerging Internet standard AS2 faces fairly rapid implementation by all companies involved in moving business data over the Net. In fact, there aren't many technical challenges that would prevent other companies from entering into competition, and some sellers of exchange services or of software for building exchanges have decided to solve this problem internally. However, companies taking this approach won't necessarily find it easy to replicate IPNet's consulting expertise.

A bigger threat (or opportunity) to IPNet is probably that of being acquired by one of those market enablers. In the same way that Commerce One recently acquired AppNet for both its expertise and its staff, a number of companies could be interested in getting access to IPNet's technology and consulting. Ariba is one, since that company has undertaken a large agenda of partnerships - each of which requires significant resources for software integrations - and might still be suffering somewhat on the data side from its early decision to take a less-than-open approach to XML. But a smaller company with its eyes on enabling the construction of markets (or supply chains) for mid-range or even small businesses could also see acquiring IPNet as the means to solving the data interchange problem.

We note that IPNet and competitor Cyclone Commerce (See "Cyclone Untangles Digital Partnerships") have most of their strategic partnerships with systems integrators and hardware manufacturers. We're concerned that this means that none of the major software companies whose products they might complement see them as possible partners. If the value of these technologies is mostly to systems integrators who might be doing one-off implementations or tying together incompatible products, we think that IPNet and Cyclone should be looking for a bigger home sooner rather than later.

User Recommendations

As e-commerce becomes pervasive data translation capabilities are vital, and some otherwise excellent vendors may not have the data translation capabilities that particular customers need. A company that is building either a supply chain or a marketplace might look on IPNet as the key to letting them choose a primary vendor with excellent features but a weakness in data integration. There are also companies that have particular needs, outside of any commercial packages like supply chain systems, to integrate data from partners. IPNet is an obvious candidate to consider in these cases. Another application would be to assist with the integration of the parts of a newly merged company.

We recommend that potential users take full advantage of IPNet's consulting, and to obtain a comprehensive pre-sales analysis of the magnitude of the problem and the proposed solution before signing on the bottom line. Since this is in IPNet's best interest we think you'll find it to be a standard offer.

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