Friday, August 25, 2006

The future of data exchange in the meetings and travel industries

Trying to get two systems to work together is a pain, so companies pay big money and adjust their business practices as they try to do everything in one system. But in reality, one system cannot handle all of the data management processes a business has - and if it did then it would be obselete the next day because these processes change constantly. So the future of software will be much like today - humans will need to use multiple systems and IT people need to somehow get them to work together.

The current paradigm in the software world is that some day "Web Services" will magically tie all of your systems together. Web Services is a clever marketing term from somewhere like IBM or Microsoft, and it basically means that Web-based software applications have an interface that other computer applications can talk to. If you are reading this post, then you are familiar with human-to-server interfaces. The web browser is an interface for humans to receive and respond to information stored on web servers. In the same way, Web Services are an interface for computer-to-computer interaction. This allows an online event registration system, like Certain Software's Register123, to submit credit card information to an Internet payment gateway, like Verisign, and receive a response accepting or denying the desired transaction. The Register123 computer communicates with the Verisign computer through a rudimentary web service, and then displays the result to the human requestor through a web browser.

In order for communication to occur, the two parties must speak the same language. Every computer application that was built independently will speak a different "data language", and if two systems are to talk then one side or the other has to build a translator so that communication is in the same language. Since the world has thousands of systems, it's no more practical to build thousands of translators than it is for a single human to learn every language. So software developers across various companies, industries, and countries get together and define standards - a common language that all agree upon. With standards, each company only needs to build one translator that takes data from their application's format into the industry standard, and then (in theory) they can interact with every other system that speaks the language of that common standard. Humans have tried to do this with the universal language "Esperanto", but it appears that computers are going to achieve a common communication standard before humans do.

For the next few weeks, I'm going to discuss an alphabet soup of topics that will soon bring a common data language to the members of the meetings and group travel industry.
  • XML
  • OTA
  • APEX
  • ESG

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