Using a free Web application from Steel Central LLC, structural-steel buyers and sellers can enter the electronic age of commerce and speed their transactions. The tool, which builds on an e-commerce initiative of the American Institute of Steel Construction, is especially designed to encourage steel suppliers to streamline business practices.

The American Institute of Steel Construction's electronic order- management initiative is called the steelXML, which is short for the Common XML Schema for the Electronic Procurement of Structural Steel. The steelXML schema is a standard specification that maps the transactions and communications workflow between the buyers and suppliers of steel. This includes electronic data exchanges on availability, price quotes, purchase orders, order status, advanced shipment notices, material test reports, invoices, payments and more.

AISC's e-commerce initiative has not caught on as quickly as hoped. This lag is primarily because, while fabricators already have the ability to produce steelXML inquiries from within their management information systems, suppliers have been "slow to implement the steelXML program," says Luke Faulkner, AISC's director of technology integration.

Suppliers have been slow to adopt because XML-coded files can be tough to read, says Chris Moor, founder of Steel Central LLC, a web-based software developer focused on structural-steel availability. This roadblock was due to the exchange needing both buyer and supplier.

To remove the obstacle, Steel Central created a steelXML converter and an online response form. Under the steelXML program, fabricators will no longer have to order steel by fax or an email attachment-both of which require multiple data entries and lots of time on the part of the buyer and seller.

The web application, available at SteelCentral.com, allows users a choice of how to manage incoming steelXML queries. When a potential buyer of steel, such as a fabricator, creates a steelXML inquiry, a steel supplier can convert it to a PDF, view it, fill in the prices or other information and proceed in the usual way, or the supplier can save the form as a steelXML response and send it back to the fabricator.

"This provides the freedom for any fabricator to issue electronic inquiries, confident that any supplier can read and respond to the inquiry without any additional expense or complications," says Moor.

"All we've done is enable the steelXML to be adopted," he adds. "The incentive for us giving it to users for free is to build awareness of Steel Central," he says.

"We're very excited," says Faulkner. "This has the potential to move steelXML along."


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