Object Design becomes eXcelon Corp.

February 2, 2000

Simon St. Laurent

Object Design extends open approach, becomes eXcelon Corp.

Object Design, Inc. is renaming itself eXcelon (after its XML-based product) and moving deeper into business-to-business territory with its eXcelon B2B Integration Server. Rather than joining the battles over which schemas fit industries most completely, eXcelon is taking a more inclusive approach, allowing different organizations to communicate using their preferred formats.

While many SGML-oriented firms have repackaged themselves and their products to support XML, this may be the first time that a more generally-oriented firm has renamed and repositioned itself to focus on XML-oriented products. While the newly re-christened eXcelon Corp. will continue to support its object database tools, its focus has shifted to the business-to-business market of eXcelon and XML.

"We're proud we're doing this," says Coco Jaenicke, Manager of eXcelon Marketing. "XML and eXcelon together allow organizations to take control over who they communicate with and how they do it. eXcelon helps businesses avoid co-opting partners, letting organizations collaborate on their own terms."

eXcelon's core XML product, the eXcelon "Dynamic Application Platform," is becoming the foundation for two new sets of tools—the eXcelon "B2B Integration Server" and eXcelon's "eSolutions." The eXcelon Dynamic Application Platform acts as a repository and transit area for XML documents, while the B2B Integration Server integrates that core functionality with existing B2B facilities and protocols, as well as with internal business processes. eXcelon's eSolutions adds higher-level customizable frameworks that allow vertical industries to use this toolkit, along with the services needed to tailor them.

Flexible Communication

eXcelon's new focus is on "Dynamic Business-to-Business" communication, and they intend that communication to include as many organizations as possible—even those that aren't its customers. Jaenicke wants the eXcelon B2B Integration Server to "connect anyone, any time, in a collaborative style that doesn't impose requirements on the other end of the conversation." This inclusive approach could make it possible to deploy effective implementations without requiring partners to use the same software. Contrast this with platforms such as Microsoft's BizTalk, where messages must be exchanged between BizTalk-aware servers.

eXcelon treats XML as a framework all parties can use to express their information without binding themselves to a particular set of rules for how that information is represented. While all parties in a particular conversation may be using XML, they may still choose different vocabularies to suit the needs of each party. This approach supports the kind of flexibility that IBM XML Evangelist Simon Phipps described in his recent white paper, Meaning, not Markup. So long as the participants in a transaction provide the necessary information in an XML form, the details of that form and the low-level structures providing that information become much less important. This reduces the need for comprehensive industry-wide standard vocabularies, giving organizations the ability to create standards that meet their needs, not those of their competitors. (See Robert Worden's recent article on, E-Business Standards: Promises and Pitfalls.)

eXcelon's products are primarily targeted at large- and medium-sized organizations. However, this inclusiveness of non-eXcelon solutions offers benefits to smaller organizations too, allowing them to establish XML-based communications with companies using eXcelon. For eXcelon customers, this means a much broader set of possible communications partners, opening new possibilities for both vendors and customers. Those vendors and customers can use their own tools to establish communication, without needing to make an upfront investment in eXcelon.

Companies using eXcelon can take advantage of its tools to reduce the costs of communication with a diverse audience. Because the Dynamic Application Platform is built on an object store (unlike its competitors), developers can keep track of transactions within eXcelon and perform multiple layers of information processing when and if required. This gives developers more control over the paths information takes as it enters and exits the platform.

Developer Interfaces

Developers can use XSLT and the DOM (using both Java and COM) within this platform to provide translations among different vocabularies, allowing companies to follow diverse development paths while maintaining interoperability. While these tools have a learning curve, eXcelon supports them as standards, letting developers bring skills they may have learned in other XML projects directly to eXcelon. These same tools can be used to connect the eXcelon Dynamic Application Platform to internal information resources.

B2B Integration and eSolutions

The purpose of the eXcelon B2B Integration Server is to connect this XML-centric platform with a variety of non-XML resources, from traditional EDI protocols to internal business process workflows. The B2B Translator component provides gateways to a wide variety of EDI protocols and formats. eXcelon's Business Process Workflow allows organizations to track and manage their transactions, using XML documents for messaging and record-keeping. The workflow documents within the B2B Integration Server can be used to integrate the XML-centric world of the eXcelon Dynamic Application Platform and the diverse set of tools used by organizations for internal communications.

eXcelon's eSolutions are a set of frameworks that simplify the process of connecting the eXcelon B2B Integration Server with widely supported industry-specific protocols. The initial set of eSolutions are designed for the insurance, retail, telecommunications, and manufacturing industries. These frameworks provide industry-specific components for building customized implementations using the B2B Integration Server and the Dynamic Application Platform, and include services for the customization and integration work.

A Growing Market

eXcelon's XML business-to-business transaction tools are operating in a rapidly growing market. They are not alone in focusing on business-to-business integration. Other vendors, notably webMethods (which has its own B2B Integration Server), Code360, and Bluestone, are also moving aggressively into this area. In addition, initiatives like Microsoft's BizTalk framework and the eCo Framework will likely percolate into, and spawn, further toolsets.

As e-business via XML becomes the new norm for companies, the flexibility, interoperability, and reliability of B2B integration servers will become increasingly important. This product area will be an interesting one to watch over the course of this year. While Microsoft appears unfocused as delays keep slowing their BizTalk server, eXcelon has sharpened its focus, betting the business on XML.