Adding Semantics to Electronic Business Documents Exchanged in Collaborative Commerce Relations

Article excerpt

Abstract

In order to support the execution of collaborative business processes, trading partners have to exchange electronic business documents. Since each partner has its own systems and culture, they could use different terms and metadata structures to represent their data, even when referring to the same domain of interest. Then, an appropriate approach for defining the semantics of these documents is required to achieve semantic interoperability. To this aim, a number of approaches have been proposed based on the use of a single domain ontology. These approaches imply the imposition of a global meaning of terms, which are used to represent the entities of a domain. This goes in opposition to one of the aims of trading partners, which is to participate in collaborative business processes without losing their autonomy and privacy. In this scenario, it is necessary to define a framework for allowing trading partners to exchange information without imposing a global meaning of it. In this paper, a novel approach is proposed in order to define the semantics of the electronic business documents interchanged between trading partners in a collaborative relationship. This approach is based on the idea of making some domain features, which are generally implicit, explicit in the domain ontologies. An application example of this approach is also presented.

Key words: Collaborative Commerce, Semantic Interoperability, Context, Ontology, Electronic Business Document

1 Introduction

In the new competitive global market, an increasing number of organizations are exploiting the potential of modern technologies to conduct business over the Internet. These technologies allow implementing business models, which were unthinkable a few years ago, such as the collaborative commerce between faraway enterprises. Collaborative Commerce can be defined as the use of Internet technologies to integrate core business processes of an enterprise with those of its customers, suppliers and trading partners. Using collaborative commerce capabilities, trading partners can operate as a single business entity. They can make joint decisions and focus on adding value to their customers. In order to implement a collaborative commerce, enterprises have to decide on both the business models and the information technologies to be implemented.

As regards business models, several centralized and decentralized models for implementing collaborative relations between enterprises have been proposed. Collaborative Planning, Forecasting and Replenishment (CPFR) [33]; and Demand Activated Manufacturing Architecture (DAMA) [8] models can be mentioned as examples of centralized models. On the other hand, examples of centralized models are Partner-to-Partner Collaborative Model [31], and Virtual Collaborative Forecasting Management (V-CFM) [12].

With regard to information technologies, collaborative commerce entails sharing heterogeneous and distributed information resulting from decision-making activities involved in inter-enterprise and intra-enterprise processes. To this aim, trading partners have to exchange Electronic Business Documents (EBD). To support collaborative commerce, EBDs based on XML (eXtensible Markup Language) [4] were defined. Examples of these specifications are xCBL [35], ebXML [34], RosettaNet [24], and OAGIS [28]. They propose to share the same vocabulary and meaning before exchanging a message. They provide the syntax to exchange information, but they do not provide the semantics associated with this information in order to facilitate the mapping between different specifications. As a result, XML does not guarantee by itself that two trading partners will understand a particular message since they could use different terms and metadata structures to represent their data, even when referring to the same domain of interest. Despite the fact that the specifications of XML-based EBD have been a great advance in the business area, they do not define the semantics necessary to achieve a real communication between trading partners. …