Entries in ASC X12 (1)


Cloud Based Integration Standards and B2B Messaging 

Over the years during which I've tracked electronic document interchange, the realm of B2B messaging has often seemed one or two steps behind the times.  The earliest adoption of document interchange standards for EDI like ANSI's X12 (now known as ASC X12), and the huge number of industry-specific messages, formats and transaction schemes that grew out of that adoption, has put business messaging in a position of always having to deal with legacy.  This became increasingly evident in the late 1990s, with the explosion of the internet as a conduit for B2B messaging.  The response by industry was the emergence of intermediation and conversion technologies, interchange services that provided as close to 'on-the-fly' translation and interpretation services as could be mustered.

The emergence of cloud computing is now an impetus to revisit B2B application messaging.  I encountered this interesting post by Mark Morley of GSX.

…With so much interest in everything Cloud at the moment, companies are starting to look at ways of not only deploying enterprise applications up to a cloud based environment but also looking for ways to provide integration to other cloud based services, whether they are private or public clouds.  AS4, with its web services capabilities has the potential to become the cloud based communications standard moving forwards.

AS4 is quite similar to AS2 in many ways however it operates within a web services context and unlike AS2, AS4 has enhanced interaction patterns and acknowledgement receipts. AS4 has the following characteristics:

  • Provides acknowledgement receipts thus enabling reliable message delivery and retry in the event of a lost message
  • Provides password authentication, digital signatures and encryption , confirms authenticity of the sender and ensures that the message is unaltered whilst in transit
  • Offers  large file compression and transfer support
  • Error generation, reports any errors to the message sender of the message receiver
  • Message exchange patterns, allows a rich variety of interactions between the sender and receiver

AS4 refers to Secure B2B Document Exchange Using Web Services is a standard developed by a subcommittee of the OASIS ebXML Messaging Services Technical Committee.  For a good summary of the standard and the intent of the OASIS ebXML technical committee, take a look at The Drummond Group's site here.  For those who might need a teaser:

This profile (of the ebMS 3.0 specification) provides guidance for a standardized methodology for the secure and document-agnostic exchange of B2B payloads using Web services. By constraining the ebMS v3.0 specification and the underlying WS-* specifications for messaging packaging, transport, security, and business non-repudiation, the profile focuses on providing an entry-level on-ramp for Web services B2B messaging. The end goal of this profile development is to replicate and strategically extend the existing functional requirements currently satisfied by RFC4130 (AS2) by mapping those requirements onto the Web services platform. 


So, what's this got to do with cloud? Doesn't seem to be much more than a consideration of how to use Service Oriented Architecture principles and accepted practice as the basis for machine-to-machine business messaging.   Yes, this all about web services.  But, as Lori MacVittie points out in Let's Face It: PaaS is Just SOA for Platforms Without the Baggage, clouds are service-based models.  They are Service Oriented Architecture that's "… merely moved down the stack a bit, into the underlying and foundational technologies upon which applications are built."  In short, Lori considers the emergence of cloud computing and '-as-a-Service' approaches to be a do-over … the reduction and avoidance of the complexity that the industry loaded on itself in the early days by over-architecting and over specifying.  

For the sake of the industries that depend on application-to-application business messaging, let's hope that the OASIS takes the hint.