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Carmakers unite on global data sharing

Carmakers unite on global data sharing

The promise of the giant Chinese auto market has spurred carmakers worldwide to rally around a new standard for data exchange that they say is needed to exploit the opportunity.

The promise of the giant Chinese auto market has spurred carmakers worldwide to rally around a new standard for data exchange that they say is needed to exploit the opportunity. Announced at this week's Auto-Tech Conference in Detroit by European, Japanese and U.S. standards bodies, the Joint Automotive Data Model (JADM) is designed to provide a common way for manufacturers and suppliers to swap XML-formatted data. The format-neutral XML is widely viewed as far more flexible for Internet-based machine-to-machine data sharing than the decades-old electronic data interchange (EDI).

The JADM effort is intended to preempt development of company- and region-specific formats that -- as with EDI -- could prove incompatible and costly to support.

"China wants common international standards because they're dealing worldwide," said Sherman Adams, a former GM executive active in the company's joint-ventures operations in Shanghai and now a member of consultancy China Solutions.

The market for cars in China grew by 14 percent last year to about 5 million vehicles, according to figures cited at the conference. The number of cars sold annually in China, now the second-largest country in terms of paved roads, will likely equal that of cars sold in North America by 2013, show speakers said.

Chinese factories are increasingly automated but e-commerce exchange with partners for orders, deliveries and shipment information is just beginning, and is made difficult by the sometimes poor quality of Chinese T-1 lines, Internet service and huge amounts of computer viruses, Adams said.

The collaboration by the standards groups - Japan's Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, Europe's Odette and the Standards for Technology in Retail organization in the U.S - is seen as an important initiative to lift the world from its business-to-business Tower of Babel. "Today, we signed a memo of understanding on how we express process design and how we express XML schema and formats we'll use," said Yoshikazu Shiozawa, IT manager at Japan's Toyota.

"It's a great step forward for global interoperability," said Richard Malaise, CIO at the Reston, Va., National Automobile Dealers' Association. "We'll have an end-to-end repository for supply-to-retail definitions of business process."

JADM backers expect to have several dozen business formats published as open source by October.

Some at this week's event warned that if the JADM effort isn't successful within two years, it might be too late to keep China and the rest of the world from building interoperable XML-based systems from scratch.

"Suppliers look to their customers for direction on this," said Bobby Patrick, director of marketing at Global eXchange Services, an e-commerce services provider. "We have a couple of years to help get standards in place. We don't want to re-invent the same problems again."

The risk that XML could end up as fragmented as EDI seems highly possible, given that American auto manufacturers have been debating for more than a year the pros and cons of two XML transport mechanisms, Web services and e-business XML (ebXML). No resolution seems in sight.

"Both leverage XML-based technologies, but they're not compatible. They're not interoperable," said John Jackson, GM's director of software technology. GM is betting on ebXML and has installed products from Cyclone for data sharing with dealers.

"The ebXML messaging service is more robust," Jackson said, pointing out that ebXML includes security features such as non-repudiation of the message - something not yet addressed by the Web services model.

At Ford, which supports Web services, Software Architect Tim Fowler said some Web services security standards are undergoing final review but that the basis for what's called WS Reliable Messaging should be ready soon. Ford uses Web services internally based on IBM's WebSphere.

Show organizer Automotive Industry Action Group surveyed 30 large truck, car and equipment makers to get a sense of which technologies they are using as they move toward service-oriented architectures (SOA). Almost all of them said they are using Web services, though a quarter also said they are using ebXML.

"It looks like Web services is going to play a prominent role," Fowler said. -- Network World (US)

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