A Secure Platform for E-Business

A Secure Platform for E-Business

Professor David Cheung and the awards received by Hermes and B2B Connector

The spread of e-commerce has led to the need among businesses and organizations to safely exchange documents, such as invoices and sales reports, electronically. A HKU project has been instrumental in providing such a service.

Professor David Cheung, head of the Department of Computer Science, has led a team that developed free software which essentially creates a leased line between two parties. It has been adopted in more than 80 countries and become the standard of its kind.

"On the Internet, the exchange of documents is not secure and reliable. That means there's a chance of A sending something to B, and B not receiving it or having it intercepted by somebody else," he says.

"Our technology turns the Internet into a secure and reliable exchange. It's like a leased line and nobody else can get onto that line."

The appeal of the technology, called ebXML Gateway Hermes, stems not only from its function, but also the fact it is open source software and anyone can access it.

Most importantly, it has been developed to meet an international standard for electronic business transactions – the ISO 15000 – and had to undergo rigorous testing before achieving ISO certification.

The ISO 15000 standard was announced in 2002 and Professor Cheung said he and his team jumped at the chance to develop new software for it.

"I told my students, this is an opportunity to implement something big, we must jump on it. This kind of situation doesn't happen often in an academic environment," he says.

"Our strategy was to use an open source strategy and release the product to the community. Once we published the open source software license, we wanted everybody to adopt it. We wanted to do something that the community could use."

The software was developed with funding from the government and the efforts of 25 full-time developers, and it was released in 2004.

It has been adopted by many users large and small, including the Hong Kong government, which is using the platform for its electronic trading service to accept trade declarations from importers and exporters. More than 20 million such documents are processed each year.

"This is a rare case because the government is very careful about using open course software, and this is one time when they have actually successfully adopted it. It is also rare because Hong Kong is an open society and the government doesn't skew its decisions to give higher priority to local software products. But this product was developed by a local university," he says.

Professor Cheung says they are continuing to develop and improve the software and have appointed a company to provide maintenance. HKU academics provide consultancy services for users as needed.

Professor David Cheung and the Center for E-Commerce Infrastructure Development (CECID) received the Faculty Knowledge Exchange Award 2011 of the Faculty of Engineering for the "ebXML Message Gateway Hermes and B2B Connector" project.