set of rules that governs the activities of all parties involved in a set of related business transactions. Thus, a trade procedure controls all interactions between the roles involved. A trade procedure stipulates which actions should be undertaken by which parties, the order in which these actions should be performed and possibly the timing constraints on the performance of these actions. Actions of parties include the sending and/or receiving of goods, documents or funds.
The need and usefulness of trade procedures is easy to demonstrate. Consider only a simple post-payment contract for goods. The buyer assumes that an invoice will be sent after delivery to trigger the payment obligation. The seller, on the other hand, abides by the practice that payment becomes due from the time of delivery, and does not send an invoice. Thus, the goods arrive, and the buyer does not pay, waiting for an invoice. Meanwhile the seller becomes irked, and initiates collection proceedings. This is an example of the so-called 'battle of the forms'. Each party utilizes standardized documents such as a purchase order, delivery agreement, etc. which contain (typically on the backside, in small print) the terms and conditions that are their style of doing business. Unfortunately, the small print is often ignored by the receiving party. For trade in a well-established industry area, standardized practice becomes generally accepted, and there usually is not a problem3. However, in more open trading situations, that cross national, cultural or sectorial boundaries, such conflicts are much more likely to arise.
One approach to decrease these negotiation costs is to define standard trade procedures. Although EDI messages can be structured using an international standard like UN/EDIFACT or ANSI X.12, there are no standards yet for the semantics and context of those messages, i.e. the business scenarios that describe the trade procedures used by the several parties involved in a business transaction4 (Wrigley, Wagenaar, and Clarke, 1994). For example, the type of response to the receipt of a purchase order can differ from company to company; one company might reply with a purchase order acknowledgment, another company might reply with a shipping notice. An ISO/IEC sub-committee (ISO/IEC JTC1/SC30) is working on the definition of standard, EDI based, trade procedures. This initiative is called 'Open-edi'.
Open-edi is 'EDI among autonomous, multiple participants using public standards and aiming towards inter-operability over time, business sectors, information technology systems and data types, capable of multiple, simultaneous transactions, to accomplish a explicit shared business goal' (ISO, 1994). The main goal of Open-edi is to lower the barriers for the establishment of EDI links between business partners by minimizing the need for multiple, bilateral Interchange Agreements. This will be done by providing industry-wide and/or cross-sectoral Open-edi standards, which will be available to all parties involved in a business transaction. These standards include Open-edi scenarios, which can be either designed for specific situations, or may be customized from generic scenarios. These scenarios will be stored in a repository, governed by an international body.
business protocols (Wrigley, 1992).
3In some cases, guidelines by international bodies such as the International Chamber of Commerce or the UNCID have been issued to diminish these ambiguities (an example is the Uniform Customs and Practices for Documentary Credits, issued by the ICC (1994)).
4 We use the term 'procedure' to refer to the formalized, computable sequence of document exchanges and related deductions; the term 'scenario' is used in a more informal and generic sense, referring not only to such procedures, but also to related informal explanations and contextualizations.