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Xml - Applications for Business Process Analysis & Design

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XML | Applications for Business Process Analysis & Design

Introduced in 1996, Extensible Markup Language (XML) was initially intended to function in the place of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) as the standard format used to define online document structure (Obasanjo, 2003). These intentions are proving inevitable as business organizations begin to realize the real potential found in the family of XML technologies. Potential in terms of improvement in information management practices measured by a company's reduction in time and overhead. One such organization that has actually realized these benefits in several facets of their operations is Freightliner, a division of Daimler Chrysler who designs, manufactures, and sells specialized commercial vehicles and will be detailed later (Kotok, 2003). XML has proven to be more than simply an advanced version of HTML. It is helping to create a common language for intra and inter-organizational business processes (Obasanjo, 2003).

Several aspects unique to XML set it apart from its parent Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) and sibling HTML. These are the same aspects spurring a community of software developers, enterprise leaders, and standards commissions to focus on this budding technology as the lingua franca of document exchange (Geyer, 2003).

The meta-language not only defines webpage format but also is actually able to provide descriptions of tabular, structured, and semi-structured data. Network protocols, relational databases, program configuration files, web pages, technical drawings and business documents are all examples of these common data forms found in everyday business operations (Obasanjo, 2003).

Like HTML, XML incorporates tags that bracket words and attributes. XML, however, uses these tags to define the data leaving the task of interpretation up to the application employing the data. This undefined vocabulary feature allows extensibility in that industry specific terminology is no longer a programming hurdle as in the past (Bos, 1999). XML applications can easily be tailored to plug in and bridge the communication between once stand-alone software. Resource intensive new software investments can be avoided by making use of existing databases and familiar programs.

XML can be used with a large assortment of other languages and is not specific to any one operating system or vendor. It is text based and Unicode compliant and can be translated into the many commonly used written languages (Walsh, 2003). This allows for more businesses that run a variety of platforms and operate internationally to take advantage of this technology.

Along with XML comes a family of helpful resources designed to automate frequently used tasks and offers services to make writing the language efficient and user friendly. These applications like XLink (standardizes hyperlink addition to a file), XPointer (points to a specific part of an XML document), and XSL (an advanced style sheet language) are simply plug-in style tools with more still under development (Bos, 1999). The ease of use will translate into less investment in education and highly trained software programmers. This along with the fact that it is relatively easy to consume generalized pre-fabricated xml-based software will allow for its market acceptance.

Potentially standing to make the most use of this technology is the financial services industry. In this industry the commodity is content, which must be delivered accurately, on time and often in a highly standardized environment. This has sprouted a standardized form of XML-based information transfer called fnXML. This software is bridging the gap between the various financial institutions to offer more reliable results to customers and industry partners (Kotok, 2003).

Another example of a company making use of XML based software is the before mentioned Daimler Chrysler division's, Freightliner. This company designs, fabricates, and sells various types of heavy-duty vehicles. Each vehicle is broken down into components and referenced with a data code element. This code is unique to each element. As the finished product is further defined more and more attributes are associated with these elements, Freightliner refers to those attributes as contextualized components. Receiving inventory from production partners, retooling for new models, and ensuring price quotations and manufacturing specifications coincide are all vital steps in Freightliner's highly specialized process (Kotok, 2003). These are also steps that are guided by an extremely advanced XML based system. It provides value by organizing the companies approach to each individual step while at the same time conducting a seamless flow from sale to delivery.

XML technology will be a fixture in the modern business environment. Business processes will be focused toward server side applications and desktop computers will be no more than browsers providing access. These lower powered computers will take advantage of the newer high-speed connections that organizations have been fazing in for the past decade. Employees will be free to telecommute more often due to the ability to perform the majority of their tasks over a web-based interface utilizing XML technology (Greer, 2003).

Potential impediments to this growth are those focusing on the security risks involved with making their sensitive data exposed to prying eyes. This problem is especially serious with the many vulnerable wireless networks already in use. Another possible obstacle is the relatively high initial investment costs. Some business owners may not be willing to spend their valuable resources now on programming designed to show results later (Walsh, 2003). Even assuming these two factors never pose a problem, there still is the unlikely possibility of consumers rejecting the new technology in favor of other competing products.

Other products on the market offering similar capabilities are Active Server Protocol (ASP), Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP), Extensible Hypertext Markup Language (XHTML), Java Applets, and the C++ language (Greer, 2003).

When implementing a new business process it is important to consider these steps in order to ensure success. An organization must first analyze and define the processes that need to be changed. Once those processes are isolated they should be prioritized by strongest case for change. Use consultants if necessary but have the employees that are directly involved make the core design decisions. This will lead to a more committed staff at the time of implementation. Every member of the team in each department needs to follow the same set of methodology and vocabulary. This should be followed through

in the XML document design stage as well, so there is no confusion of



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