Standardization of Messages

Standardization of messages should be the end result of a process involving business process analysis, document simplification and data harmonization.
Message standards ensure that messages are robust, inter-operable and reusable for many business sectors and governments. There are many business message or document standards in use but the main ones are published by UNCEFACT, ISO and OASIS. These standards are split into semantic, syntax and specifications.

Available Message standards

Semantic standards

Semantic standards refer to the meaning of the data, its representation, its context and how it relates to other documents within the supply chain. The following are Semantic Standards used in Business to Business (B2B) and Business to Government (B2G);

In recent years UN/CEFACT has developed the Core Component Library (CCL) using the meta-data standard Core Component Technical Specification (CCTS), which is an ISO standard (ISO TS 15000-5). The purpose of the CCL is to provide re-usable building blocks for information which can be reused consistently in various information exchange systems. Based on the CCL, a set of message models for supply chain transactions have been developed. Among them is the Cross Industry Invoice (CII). Currently the EU recommends that all messages should be based on the UN/CEFACT Cross Industry Invoice (CII) Data Model .

Semantic standards are important to attain Semantic Interoperability. This allows governments and business to agree on context and meanings of message exchanges without having to agree on a particular syntax in which to implement the semantics. Semantics also mean that initiatives in the EU, such as ISA, and NIEM in the US can focus on a semantic layer that users can understand and sister organizations can therefore agree on the meaning and context of messages to exchange. However to implement these messages each organization has to agree on the syntax which the computer system can interpret and process. This is where syntax standards, particularly those based on XML, are used. The UN/CEFACT CCL, for instance, uses a naming and design rule (NDR) to transform the semantic library (CCL), agreed at business and government level, to schema defining the XML syntax. However other organizations could create their own NDRs or use standard transformations (e.g. xslt) to transform and align to the CEFACT syntax using their own formats without interfering with the agreed semantics.

Syntax standards

Syntax standards define, using technical specifications, the actual content of the messages. Semantics are used to define the meaning and context of messages at the government and business-user level. Syntax refers to the format of the electronic message which the machine can interpret and process.

The following are Syntax Standards;

Probably the most common message standard in use for supply chain documents is UN/EDIFACT (Electronic Data Interchange For Administration Commerce and Transport) which has been developed as a UN/CEFACT standard for more than 20 years. In the US, ANSI has ensured the prevalence of X12 for retailing and HL7 for hospital information systems.
Within the past 10 years, XML has also become a popular syntax to exchange messages. All modern programming languages and operating systems support XML. However, since the publication of the W3C recommendation, a variety of XML exchange structures have been developed. One of them, the Universal Business Language (UBL), is now used by several EU and non-EU governments for e-purchasing in both post- and pre-award stages of the tendering process. The popularity of XML has driven the requirement to provide standards in xml syntax.

Technical specifications

Technical specifications are simply the rules and governance to which semantic and syntax standards are applied. In this context technical specifications describe the semantics or syntax or both. Some technical specifications address the semantics of the message, some specify the syntax, and there are even standards that specify how to transform from semantic to syntactic, i.e. naming and design rules (NDR).

Examples of specification standards are:

Why use agreed standards?

If decision makers in various parts of a supply chain decided to develop their own unique messages and did not share this with others in a similar position, then it would be very difficult for others involved with them to automate the exchange of messages. This is because for every exchange there would be a different message. If instead, these decision makers decided to adapt an existing standard or to submit the information to a standards process, then the varieties of messages used in this exchange would be significantly reduced as well as the cost of implementing and maintaining them.

Standard organizations, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the non-profit consortium for advancing open standards for the information society (OASIS), the World Wide Web consortium (W3C) or UNECE through its UN Center for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), are involved in the development and publication of standards.