Data Model Unification

Aug. 13, 2007
Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) is one strategy that addresses the growing need for more integration both inside and between global businesses. Its popularity has to some degree overshadowed industry standards, but in fact, SOA needs standards to be successful. Standards that define the communications between businesses and products are critical, but do not eliminate complex and expensive integration mappings, especially when multiple standards and products must be used. The Core Component standards effort of the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) addresses this issue at the data level, and is helping to unify data models.
Most businesses have evolved into using multiple integration standards. But this becomes a serious problem as the scope of collaboration, integration and information sharing expands. The effort, time and skill required to manage this quickly becomes a major inhibitor to implementing changes required to achieve and improve business performance. Industries’ first reaction to this challenge was to develop more adapters and packaged integrations. But every company has many unique business processes and uses different standards, making it difficult for suppliers to provide complete solutions. Another industry reaction was to examine ways to converge overlapping industry standards. In some cases, convergence of standards is the best technical and long-term support strategy.Core Component strategies impact the domains of both standards bodies and product architects. They require change to existing standards and can introduce complexity in the initial phases. There will naturally be some resistance to adoption, and an inclination to continue on diverging paths. But it is necessary that managers understand the potential benefits in order to make effective long term staffing and community support decisions.Core Components are standardized “semantic building blocks that can be used for all aspects of data and information modeling and exchange,” according to the Core Component Technical Standard, CCTS V3.0. Importantly, they are technology independent, syntax neutral and use a standardized naming convention that was derived from the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 11179, a standard for representing metadata. Thus, they are useful to both standards bodies and software suppliers for defining standardized information structure with consistent names. Unified data objects can dramatically reduce end-user integration costs.Help on the wayCore Components have been around for a while and adoption efforts have been ongoing but are now gaining momentum, partly facilitated by new, SOA-based architecture development. Adoption of Core Components by multiple standards bodies can eliminate much of the standard-to-standard differences. Success requires that many standards bodies participate, adopt the components consistently, and keep up with an evolving library of re-useable components. The Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) has been a proponent for some time. OAGi (Open Applications Group Inc.), clearly an adoption leader, integrated Core Components into version 9 of OAGIS. The CIDX (Chemical Industry Data Exchange) is now doing a detailed evaluation of the impact on its Chem eStandards. RosettaNet, WBF and others are in various stages of evaluation and implementation.End-users will benefit most when suppliers build standards into their products. Most suppliers will eventually support some aspects of Core Components through the use of industry standards such as CIDX, OAGi, and RosettaNet. One good example is Infor’s SOA-based architecture that is based on a standardized Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) and OAGi Business Object Documents.ARC recommends that end-users (owner/operators) should support industry and standards groups for the evaluation, implementation and evolution of Core Component adoption. They should also engage suppliers that are contributing heavily and encourage supplier involvement from others. Suppliers should investigate ways of incorporating Core Component concepts and standards into their products to reduce the complexity, time and risk of integrating large product suites and solutions. Robert Mick,