David Archer, CEO of POSC has contributed his thoughts on the emerging standard and its likely impact on E&P IT.
First of all, everyone is writing and talking about XML, and all the hype cycle charts include XML. Can this be the "Next Big Thing"? I believe that it will be, for the foreseeable future and in the most positive sense. We cannot dismiss XML as just another passing fad. Java and XML are the fundamental enabling technologies for today's Internet-based and eBusiness-oriented world. Both provide portability, flexibility and the means to implement a wide variety of applications directly on the Internet.
The exponential growth of the Internet was fueled by its building blocks, HTTP and HTML. HTML consists of a very limited number of well-defined tags that tell a browser how to render an .html file. Both the content (the stuff between the tags) and the realization (the way it looks on the screen) are bundled into the .html file. However, deciphering just what the content means is virtually impossible since the tags are there for display, not information sharing, purposes.
The result has been fantastically successful, but it didn't take long to realize that the HTTP/HTML situation was too static both for interactive and application-to-application information exchange. Enter XML. Like HTML, XML is part of the SGML family, not as static as HTML and not as complex as SGML. XML is attractive for a number of reasons. Everyone is doing it, hence there are already a large number of tools for constructing, parsing and rendering XML-based documents. XML is document-oriented and permits the construction of document models, with user-defined tags that represent the content of the document independently of how it might be displayed. Document display and perhaps more accurately, transformation is handled by the companion XSL. XML enables application-to-application information exchange. Encoding information in XML form makes it possible for applications to exchange information directly and with understanding, a powerful enabler of eBusiness.
To such interchange, industry segments must agree on standard terminology and information interfaces, in the form of XML DTDs, schemas or equivalent so that applications can exchange information with sufficient understanding to deal with the information. Such interchange is a major growth area, with most growth in eBusiness in in Business-to-business (B2B) commerce.
$ 1 trillion
IDC estimates that this will grow from $50billion in 1998 to over $1trillion by 2002. There is a rush to establish the registry or to be the authority for XML interfaces see, for example, XML.org & Biztalk.org as there is perceived value in being closely identified with and even controlling the standards in certain domains.
I believe that eBusiness concepts will have a huge impact on all aspects of the E&P business, from connecting business and technical information to exchanging data among technical systems. Again we find ourselves at the same place we were many years ago, what will be the metadata and content standards for the information that we must share? And how do we establish and maintain these? POSC is moving rapidly in to this domain with activities to define XML DTDs for standard well-log formats (see the WellLogML article on page 6).
We are also working with industry bodies such as API (the PIDX group) and regulatory bodies (Minerals Management Service, Bureau of Land Management, Texas Railroad Commission) to establish common DTDs and associated interfaces for oil and gas regulatory reporting. As similar issues face regulatory agencies and operators worldwide, we believe that this work will be applicable on a global scale.
This new environment provides an opportunity for us to leverage the past work of these groups and to bring it into the Internet-fueled world. And this world needs content and metadata standards more than ever before.
All the above having been said, it's not XML alone that will make a difference. But by effectively combining the alphabet soup of XML, XSL, XLL, HTML with Java, HTTP and the rest of the Internet-related technologies we can get well down the road of information sharing and interoperable systems that we need for the new world of business.
So .. XML? Hype or Here-to-Stay? Emphatically, it's here-to-stay, at least as an underlying piece of the interoperability puzzle. I predict that eventually (less than a year) there will be less buzz around XML itself with the focus more on using it as part of a family of information exchange/sharing-oriented languages and as an information transfer medium, and on reaching the agreements on how we might use it with eBusiness not eTechnology as the driver.