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How STEP/SGML and XML/EDI Initiatives Will Impact Future Development of IETMs.

Author: Betty  Harvey




Betty Harvey is currently President and principle owner of Electronic Commerce Connection, Inc. Prior experience includes Scientific and Engineering User Support Specialist at David Taylor Model Basin, NSWC (formerly David Taylor Naval Ship Research & Development Center) where she provided support for several thousand S & E computer users. While David Taylor Ms. Harvey participated in the development of U.S. DoD CALS standards, including IETMs, SGML and Internet protocols. In 1994, Ms. Harvey was awarded “Employee of the Year, Engineer/Scientist”. Prior to DTMB, Ms Harvey was a Management Analyst for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service,

Ms. Harvey reactivated the Washington, D.C. Area SGML Users Group ( in 1995. She currently coordinates the monthly activities of the Users Group. Previously, Ms. Harve acted as Secretary for the ISO/TC184/SC4/WG3/T14 ( This ISO Technical Committee is responsible for the integration of the SGML and STEP standards.


The STEP/SGML initiative will enable information objects used within technical manuals to be created early in the manufacturing process and then used within paper manuals, Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals (IETMs), Computer Based Training (CBT), documents on demand, etc. This paper will describe how the ISO Preliminary Work Item (PWI) on SGML and Industrial Data, and recent initiatives towards using eXtensible Markup Language (XML) for Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), could ultimately impact and improve the IETM authoring and creation process.


Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals (IETMs) are designed to enable a technician to walk through maintenance procedures in a logical sequence and through fault isolation techniques. Currently there is a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) specification, MIL-PRF-87269, "Data Base, Revisable: Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals, For the Support Of." This is currently the only available published standard for developing IETMs. Current initiatives are underway to create an International Standards Organization (ISO) standard for IETM development. An ISO standard for IETMs will ensure that the data can be reusable into the future.

A technical committee (T14) was established several years ago by the ISO to research the possibility of allowing ISO 8879, Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) markup within the ISO 10303, Standard Exchange for Product Data (STEP) environment. Yuri Rubinsky, SoftQuad, International, was an early proponent of the STEP/SGML initiative. Yuri initially chaired the T14 Technical Committee. Later, Hugh Tucker, Documenta, Aps., with the full support of Yuri and SoftQuad, International, took over as Chairperson of the T14 Technical Committee. Under Hugh=s leadership the STEP/SGML initiative made significant progress. Several papers were written during these early years of T14 describing the need for the integration of STEP and SGML[1, 2]. In June, 1997, a Preliminary Work Item (PWI) was unanimously approved by the ISO Standards Committee 4 (SC4) [3]. This work is currently progressing at a very fast pace.

The eXtensible Markup Language/ Electronic Data Interchange (XML/EDI) initiative, will have a significant impact on the future development of IETMs. The XML/EDI initiative started out as a grass-root organization[4]. A few EDI and SGML experts became XML/EDI visionaries. They saw the value and the significance of the XML initiative which was being developed through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The W3C was founded in October 1994 to lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing common protocols that promote its evolution and ensure its interoperability[5]. In February, 1998, the W3C recommended XML 1.0 as an internet standard. As a result of the XML/EDI groups belief in XML as an EDI enabling technology, several prominent organizations, such as Data Interchange Standards Association (DISA), Graphics Communications Association (GCA), and CommerceNet have taken notice and pilot programs are currently underway in each of these organizations.


IETMs deployed today use various types of graphic formats and styles. Although graphic standards have been specified in several industry standards, including CALS (Continuous Acquisition and Lifecycle Support aka Computer Aided Logistic Systems) and the Airline Transportation Association (ATA) 2100 most IETMs don't use or support these standard graphic formats. As an example, IETMs that use commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software engines as their core technology use Microsofts Windows Bitmap (BMP) format as their graphic format. This is neither an ISO nor an industry standard. As a result, the graphics are not usable across multiple hardware/software platforms. Graphics that are converted to other formats are converted at great expense. The quality of the graphics is diminished every time a graphic is converted. Industry standards also tend to become obsolete faster than anticipated. As an example, the CALS initiative currently references its own flavor of Tagged Interchange File Format (TIFF) raster and Computer Graphics Metafile (CGM) graphic profile formats. Both formats referenced within the CALS standards are several years older than the current ISO standards. ISO, American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and other industry standards have moved forward in establishing and enhancing graphic standards while CALS specifications have not kept up with the other standards bodies. U.S. Secretary of Defense Perry recognized the problem of keeping U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Military Standards in sync with ISO and ANSI standards. As a result of Secretary Perry's awareness, he mandated that the U.S. DoD use ISO or ANSI standards wherever possible and not develop their own. Special exceptions were required use U.S. Military Specifications in DoD projects.

As a result of the ineffectiveness of the CALS standards current IETMs within CALS programs usually use other graphic standards or no standards at all. Graphic formats being used within all IETMs are usually specified based upon the viewing technology and not by a specific standard. When IETMs and Electronic Technical Manuals (ETM) have been developed from legacy paper manuals we see a lot of MS-Windows BMP files. Currently the trend is to use GIF or JPEG formats so that the data can be used on both stand-alone systems and on the World Wide Web (WWW) with current browsing technology IETM systems do incorporate logistics capability. The data flowing between the logistics systems and the IETMs require a great deal of custom integration to enable the IETM and the logistic systems to talk to each other. Every IETM system, if it even supports this type of logistics capability, handles the integration in a proprietary manner.

EDI standards are not being used or addressed. Thus it is too difficult to integrate database, SGML and EDI technologies into a coherent system. Individual programs do not have the resources to tackle this very complex problem.

STEP/SGML and IETMs of the Future

The STEP/SGML initiative will provide a mechanism for information objects coming from the STEP environment to be used within all technical manuals. Creation of the information object early in the design manufacturing process will ensure that the information is correct from a design and engineering standpoint. The information objects can be used within paper manuals, IETMs, Computer Based Training, etc. A PWI [3] has recently been approved by ISO/TC184/SC4/WG10 to investigate the viability of incorporating SGML within the ISO STEP standard.

If the STEP/SGML initiative includes the capability of incorporating SGML information objects within the STEP product model, data will be reusable across multiple design and documentation products, (paper, IETMs, Computer Based Training (CBT's), User Manuals, etc.), thus greatly reducing the time, money and resources to re-author traditional paper products into electronic products. The IETM is only one potential benefactor.

The ISO T14 Working Group is currently working on harmonizing STEP and SGML. This effort will facilitate the ability for SGML fragments to be included within the product data. Several benefits will culminate from this very important work. The biggest benefit to IETM and CBT development is the capability of incorporating information objects within the STEP data model. Information objects are reusable pieces of information. The information object will be available as an SGML information object within the STEP model. The information object is a reusable piece of information that can be reused in a multitude of different outputs and products. Having SGML tagged information within the STEP model will allow the engineer to incorporate not only reusable information objects but also to add valuable information within the product model that will help individuals and organizations who will use data throughout, the lifecycle of the product.

SGML Information Objects within STEP Model

XML/EDI Initiative

The functionality of IETMs would be greatly enhanced if they had the capability of directly accessing the supply and ordering system directly. From the early conception of IETMs in the 1980's, it was envisions that the depot level maintenance technician would have the capability of directly accessing the supply system while repairing a piece of equipment. This capability also requires the necessary workflow and supervisory sign-off required for current logistics systems to be implemented. This capability has been incorporated into a few pilot and production systems, however, there is not a standard mechanism for providing this functionality and data exchange within any IETM or SGML specifications.

The XML/EDI initiative is a relatively new effort. The concept is being investigated by several different established EDI organizations . An ad hoc (grassroots) organization emerged on the Internet less than a year ago to look at XML/EDI possibilities. This group has just gone under the umbrella of the Graphics Communications Association (GCA). As a result of the XML/EDI groups initiative and tenacity there are now several industry initiatives taking place to look at the XML/EDI possibilities. CommerceNet, an industry-based consortium to further internet commerce has created a taskforce to look into the use of XML/EDI over the Internet. Other initiatives are currently looking into the possibilities of XML/EDI as either a replacement or an enhancement to the Accredited Standards Committee X12 and the Electronic Data Interchange for Administration and Transport (EDIFACT). X12 is used mainly within North America whereas EDIFACT is used mainly in Europe. The possibility exists that XML/EDI may bridge the gap between these two EDI standards. As the global world becomes smaller with Internet access, these two worlds have a desperate need to be able to communicate and exchange data. XML provides the mechanism for this interchange.

The goal of IETMs has always been to provide the capability of supporting and enhancing existing logistic support systems, as well as future logistics systems. XML/EDI has the potential of bringing this vision to a reality. The existing EDI standards are cumbersome. Initiatives to incorporate existing EDI standards into use with SGML have been unsuccessful. The current Internet XML initiative will allow the use of XML within existing SGML/XML environments for on-line ordering. IETM developers will not be required to incorporate two similar standards into a single environment.

Data Standard Harmonization Effort

ISO is addressing the need for data harmonization and standarization. ISO has an initiative called the Basic Semantic Repository (BSR). The purpose of the BSR project is to provide an internationally agreed register of multilingual data concepts with its technical infrastructure. [6] The purpose of the BSR is to:

The figure below shows the different data standards that the BSR is trying to harmonize semantically through a central repository. The pivatol standards related to IETMs; CALS, XML/EDI, TC184 and W3C are part of the BSR core standard harmonization effort.

BSR Harmonization Effort

The BSR effort is an admirable effort and may help resolve some of the basic semantic differences between the different standards discussed in this paper.


: As STEP/SGML and XML/EDI initiatives move forward and become viable solutions during the next several years, these important initiatives will pave the way for IETMs to take advantage of the information they will provide. The STEP/SGML and XML/EDI initiatives will allow IETMS to be developed more quickly, easier and at a lower cost. The data provided and supplied to and from the IETM will be reusable across multiple systems and products.


[1] Reiner Reschke, EuroSTEP, Germany and Hugh Tucker, Documenta, Aps, Denmark, , August 31, 1996, Control for Product Documentation, A Way of Integrating STEP & SGML, (V0.4)

[2] Standing Document H. November 1, 1995, ISO/TC184/SC4/WG3/T14, IPO Technical Publications, Standing document H

[3] June 6, 1997, Preliminary Work Item Proposal: SGML and Industrial Data from WG10

[4] 25th January 1998, Editor, Martin Bryan, The SGML Centre, XML/EDI Working Group Electronic Data Interchange, Version 0.05

[5] 10-February-1998, Markup Language (XML) 1.0, W3C Recommendation

[6] February 4, 1998, Benis Hill, ISO BSR Project Manager, Geneva, Switzerland General Overview of the Basic Semantic Repository (BSR)