Use of XML among enterprise customers is soaring, according to a recent survey. But the survey found users have a very different set of priorities from those of software vendors touting XML's more exotic promises.
Vendors and analysts paint a glowing picture of how XML can be used in business-to-business e-commerce to quickly let applications share data. But the IT managers in the survey by US-based Zona Research are more pragmatic. Their top priorities are converting data into XML so that:
- Users can search more corporate data and search it more accurately.
- Process the data in new ways.
- Speed up application development.
XML is a Web standard that defines rules for representing data in Web documents. HTML simply lets you view a page of data in a Web browser. But an XML document actually packages the data so that it can be processed by anything from your Excel spreadsheet to an enterprise order processing application. That's because XML includes metadata - definitions and other information that create common meanings for such things as order, quantity, customer account number and so on.
Zona Research surveyed 200 current and intended users of XML-based software last November. Users were people who bought or influenced buying of e-commerce software. About 80 per cent were from companies with over 2500 employees. One in four respondents had already deployed XML software, 14 per cent more said they would do so by year-end, and another 45 per cent will do so this year.
"I was surprised to see 'search' as the number one reason for using XML," says Zona managing director Martin Marshall. "We thought it would be something like 'to integrate our overall applications' within their organisations."
Converting data into XML means, says Marshall, "you can get to data you couldn't reach before, and you can search across both structured data [in a database] and unstructured data [contracts, for example]". Because XML makes use of predefined metadata, which can be thought of as a set of rules, definitions and categories, searches can be more precise and more relevant, he says.
The second priority for the group is processing that XML data in new ways. Once converted, Marshall says, XML-based data can be used by other applications either directly, if they include XML parsers and the like, or by translating XML into a format the application understands.
Because XML is a standard format, it speeds up new application development by eliminating the coding needed to handle complex data conversions. Faster development, especially for e-business applications, is the third priority for the survey group.
Using XML to tie corporate applications to those of customers or trading partners, or to join an e-commerce trading exchange were much less urgent. Forty per cent or less of respondents cited these as reasons for using XML now.