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What is cXML?

Learn about the cXML data format, the role it plays with PunchOut catalogs, and how cXML PunchOut catalogs can help your B2B business to offer a superior eCommerce experience.

cXMLBlog.pngcXML is a data exchange standard to communicate documents between eProcurement platforms, eCommerce stores, and other business software. It is primarily used to exchange PunchOut catalog shopping cart data and electronic documents, such as purchase orders and invoices, to facilitate integrated B2B sales processes.

Ariba developed cXML in partnership with other companies in the late 1990s. They were motivated by the need for an open and flexible language that B2B businesses could use to integrate sales platforms and back-end procurement platforms. Earlier solutions, including the Electronic Document Interchange (EDI) format, were complex and expensive to implement, whereas cXML is open, accessible, and designed to work over the internet.

cXML is based on the XML markup language. cXML documents are composed of tag/value pairs that will be familiar to anyone who knows HTML. For example, the tag for encoding the name of an order’s recipient looks like this:

<DeliverTo>Sally Smith</DeliverTo>

cXML describes a series of standard documents in this format that eProcurement and eCommerce developers can implement.

In addition to the document specifications, cXML also describes a pair of protocols for communicating data between platforms: a Request-Response model and a one-way model. The Request-Response model is used more widely and provides a protocol for two-way communication using standard HTTP(S) requests.

How Is cXML Used in PunchOut Catalogs?

PunchOut catalogs allow a buyer to select a supplier from within their eProcurement platform. They are forwarded to the supplier’s eCommerce store and authenticated. Once they have selected products, they transfer the order details to their eProcurement platform, where a requisition order is created.

In many eProcurement stores and eCommerce applications, cXML is the data format that makes this level of integration and automation possible.

Under the hood, a typical cXML PunchOut session looks like this:

  • When the buyer selects a vendor, the eProcurement platform sends a PunchOut Setup Request to the seller’s eCommerce store. The request is accompanied by a cXML document that includes details such as the buyer’s name, contact information, and unique identifiers for authentication that vary by eProcurement system and by unique buyer requirements.
  • The eCommerce store responds with a PunchOut Setup Response, again accompanied by a cXML document that includes, among other data, the redirect URL of the store. The eProcurement platform redirects the user to that URL, which is generally the homepage or a page defined for the buyer organization. In the case of Level 2 PunchOut Catalogs, the user is sent directly to a product page.
  • After products are selected, the buyer hits a “transfer order” button in the eCommerce store, which sends a PunchOut Order Message to the eProcurement platform. The accompanying cXML encodes details such as product descriptions and ID numbers, unit prices, the unit of measure, UNSPSC codes and the currency. These details can also vary by eProcurement system to some extent.

From the buyer’s perspective, the process we’ve outlined is entirely automated, simple and intuitive. They choose a supplier, put items in their cart, and “check out.” The eProcurement platform and the eCommerce store invisibly handle authentication, data exchange, and requisition order creation within the buyers originating eProcurement system or ERP.

The process can be extended further with purchase order automation, which sends a purchase order to the seller’s eCommerce store and order management system when an eProcurement requisition order is approved. Other documents include order confirmations, shipping notifications and eInvoices.

Why PunchOut and cXML?

PunchOut catalogs create a superior B2B eCommerce experience for businesses that rely on eProcurement. A recent PunchOut2Go-sponsored study from Digital Commerce 360 revealed that eProcurement is the fastest growing B2B sales channel and that eProcurement users want to integrate as many suppliers as possible for PunchOut and other procurement automation functionality.

PunchOut catalogs and procurement automation helps buyers to:

  • Eliminate error-prone manual data entry.
  • Access approved suppliers in a single interface with a real-time product, availability, and discount information.
  • Improve procurement productivity and accelerate the purchase cycle.
  • Centralize procurement data to increase visibility and control of spending.

Suppliers also realize considerable benefits from PunchOut catalogs. They can:

  • Win new business from eProcurement users and strengthen existing sales relationships.
  • Ensure buyers have access to up-to-date personalized catalogs.
  • Reduce procurement costs by moving buyers to their eCommerce platform instead of more expensive and labor-intensive channels.

The benefits of PunchOut catalogs are clear, but both buyers and suppliers face implementation challenges. cXML is just one of the data formats supported by eProcurement and ERP platforms. There is also the older EDI protocol, modern alternatives such as the Open Catalog Interface (OCI) and Oracle XML, and custom formats and protocols.

PunchOut2Go helps B2B businesses to build a bridge between incompatible platforms. Via the PunchOut2Go iPaaS, any eProcurement platform can integrate with any eCommerce store for PunchOut catalogs and other automation features. PunchOut2Go is platform-agnostic, and integration is fast and inexpensive.

To find out more about the universal PunchOut catalog and purchase order automation, contact a B2B integration expert via the form below, and we’ll contact you soon.

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