UK users are beginning to get to grips with XML, seven years after the launch of the technology. Fifty nine percent of businesses now use XML and, of those, 71 percent are using XML-based web services.

Those are the findings from a new survey which finds that, on the anniversary of the introduction of XML, most companies had grasped the concept of XML, the idea of web services were beyond a lot of companies. Only 42 percent of companies adopting web services and, in addition, only 37 percent of those polled had heard of the concept of Service Oriented Architecture – an approach to creating loosely coupled, business-orientated services.

The survey, carried out by Vanson Bourne and sponsored by Microsoft, also showed that many IT departments are still facing ignorance, confusion, or simple apathy from non-technical management when it came to appreciating the business benefits. And there’s a knowledge gap to be filled: 91 percent of respondents said that there was a lack of understanding from management.

Gavin King, products and solutions marketing manager for Microsoft UK said that there was still some way to go. “How can you explain what is inherently a pervasive yet intangible technology to business users? It’s hard to put your finger on just what it is – especially if you are not technical. This very question borne out of its simplicity is one of XML’s strongest characteristics, yet can make explanation difficult. It’s easy to see the potential challenges here.”

Dennis Keeling, chief executive of the Business Application Software Developer Association (BASDA), said that part of the problem was that web services had changed their definition. He was happy with the take-up of web services but he agreed that there had been some confusion. “It all depends on what you mean by web services. What we have now is not the web services that were predicting back in 2000.”

Keeling said that he was delighted with the take-up of XML and web services. “Look around you; XML is everywhere. Text messaging is XML, although that’s never mentioned.” He added that the situation would I improve further when the UK eProcurement website (code-name Zanzibar) went live in the spring. “With 15 departments involved, we’ll really see a boost for XML.”

Microsoft’s King also thought the future was bright. He said that the company had concentrated on getting the back-end right first but was now in position to drive interest among the non-technical community. “At Microsoft we have been committed to solving the back-end needs first. This was the right place to start – putting XML to work at solving issues like integration challenges with products such as Biztalk Server.” He said that the next challenge was to help end-users create rich XML-based documents without being bogged down in the technology.